One of the first questions I ask when I work with parents to help their children develop better sleep skills is: when is bedtime? It seems like a simple enough question, yet it turns out that “bedtime” can mean different things to different people.
For some parents, it’s when the bedtime routine starts, even if the time to complete that routine can end up being an hour or more. For others, it’s when they start thinking about rounding everyone up for bed, but then get distracted with other tasks. For many parents, it’s simply when they wish bedtime happened, but they can’t seem to get there no matter how much they try.
So, during the sleep coaching process I always clarify exactly what I mean by bedtime. If Daddy is still reading a story, it’s not bedtime yet. It’s not yet bedtime if Mommy is rubbing someone’s back. Bedtime is when everyone is tucked in, lights out, and parents are out of the child’s room or sleeping space. Your child may not be sleeping yet, which is fine. As parents, we can leave it to our children to choose the right moment to actually fall asleep. It’s our responsibility to create the right conditions and opportunity for that to happen when they’re ready.
Getting our kids to bed when we know is a good time can be challenging for a host of reasons. Part of my job is to help parents problem-solve to make that process easier. But the first step, always, is to figure out where things truly stand, right now. So tonight, or tomorrow, take a moment to look at the clock the actual moment that you’ve let your child have the chance to fall asleep (whether they were actually asleep or not). Once you’ve got a clear picture of when bedtime really is, you’re that much closer to getting where you want it to be.
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