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Mothering › Toddler Articles › Guest Blogger Stacia D. Kelly on Peaceful Bedtime

Guest Blogger Stacia D. Kelly on Peaceful Bedtime

We’ve all been through it, the hours battling a small body to fall asleep, the endless tossing and turning and the “I don’t wanna go to sleep. I’m not tired yet.”

We cajole.

We sing.

We dance.

We offer favorite toys.

We offer promises (bribes); five nights without a battle, and you can get a new toy or whatever it is with which we can bribe them.

And later, when our patience runs out and they really need to be to sleep, we start threatening and trying to reason with a small tired body that is already beyond reason.

Two hours later, a lifetime it seems, you’re wondering where your night went and why it seems so hard to get a little body, such a tired little body, to go to bed. You know when you’re ready, you’re out the minute your head hits the pillow. You’re exhausted; it’s a no brainer.

This was my general battle. I’ve never had an issue, once he was weaned, about sleeping through the night or even falling back to sleep on his own. Our son is a whiz at that. Once he’s down, he’s out. A tree could land on our house (actually, that has happened…twice), and he’d never hear it until his internal clock clicks him awake 11 hours or so later. Or, unless I softly tell him “Up to Mommy” which is his quiet clue to wake up enough to reach up to me so I can move him, give him medicine, whatever the reason. I use the same words no matter what; they are his trigger words.

It was the getting him to sleep part that served as a challenge for quite awhile. I’d be in tears; ready to tear my hair out wondering what I was doing wrong and why all the methods I’d been reading about just weren’t working for us. I wanted just a few hours after he fell asleep for myself.

I’d meditated throughout my pregnancy, determined to use hypnosis for our birth process. I’d seen it a number of years on the Discovery Channel and was in awe of the beautiful births of so many babies. I wanted that so I diligently listened to relaxation CDs nightly. It got so that two minutes in, and I’d be relaxed and out. I played the music on our CD player, so not only did I hear it, but my husband, and our baby would hear it as well. I wanted a calm child. I wanted to give our child whatever benefits I could, early on, for maintaining that calm. A gift my mother had given me, but not until my teen years.

And in the darkness of bed time battle one night, I realized, I’d been meditating since I was a teen; I’d trained as a Hypnotherapist as an adult; I could relax myself and others at will. I needed to learn to do it with our son!

So one night, at the age of three, when the battle began, I decided to try a new method.

“I’m not tired.” He said. He kicked his feet under the covers; he played with his hands. He shook his head.

Instead of sighing in my usual frustration, I slipped into the softest, most soothing voice I use with the adults I help and just agreed, “Yes angel, but we’re going to play a game tonight. You can do that with me, right?”

He is always up for a game. And my husband who was curled up next to him just shot me a surprised look.

“This is a stillness game. The goal is to get as still as you can with your eyes closed.” I’d found some soft, soothing music to play in the background to help my cause.

“I can do that, Mommy.”

Of course he could.

And I proceeded down an abbreviated relaxation technique that any child would follow. Telling him softly, quietly to imagine a warm white light flowing down over his body and then relaxing each body part that he knew from his head to his toes. Now, our son knows all his body parts, so he just followed it along and relaxed right down in about 5 minutes. I have had parents use the same technique via CD/MP3 and seen great results in two-year olds and beyond. Some moms even claim unfair, because they fall asleep too. And my response? “You probably need the sleep. Just take it while you can get it!”

I believe it is the combination of mommy’s voice and the sing song, softly asking them to relax that allows their bodies to simply let go. Now, most parents can’t record themselves, nor do they know how to follow a relaxation script. So there are some alternatives:

1) Record your Own – if you have a computer, you can build your own relaxation script and save it, plus music to MP3 – it is a little technical but many parents can do it – the software is free, but it requires time and a quiet house. The relaxation script is simple, just use your soft voice and walk them through relaxing each body part they know. And if they don’t know it, don’t be surprised. Just walk them through it, it really is all about the voice.

2) Find a CD – find a CD you like and your child likes and use that as part of your nightly routine. Make sure you both like the voice and the background music.

It’s a challenge. Some parents excel at this stage of child rearing, some of us are more challenged. We each have our strengths. We’re great at getting the correct foods in them; teaching them new skills; spending time and being silly. Maybe you’ve fallen into your own routine and neglected to look at what works for you child? This was my challenge. We all do it. We’re tired. We have things we have to get done. Work. Life. School. Whatever. It’s all a balance. I was frustrated because with all I do during a day, I couldn’t get our little guy to sleep so I could just spend some quality time with my husband. It was getting frustrating.

Here are a few alternative items that have also helped in our softly to sleep endeavor:

1) Limit Sugars – we’ve learned to limit sugars and hour or two before bed. We’ve even taught our son to turn to the ingredients table and look, less than 10 sugars is okay, anything more, and he has to put it back. It’s not ideal, but it’s helping us get him closer to the right track.

2) Red light – a small light on his nightstand with a red shade gives off a soft red glow which does not impact his sleep cycle. For added benefit, we strung up a strand of holiday lights around the edge of his bed. It’s been a great help with the battle of wanting a light on and allows us to see him clearly when we go to check on him in the middle of the night.

3) I bring a relaxation CD when we’re on the road or out of town. I can simply start the song up and his body responds.

4) Routine – Use the same (or similar) routine night in and night out. A little variance here and there is ok, but for the most part, all adults who will be putting your child to sleep need to agree on the basic bedtime steps such as bath, quiet time, last snack, potty, teeth, and bedtime. Or whatever your routine happens to be. And, no variances until the routine is a routine. Stand your ground on this one; it is not only your child’s sleep that is impacted, but yours as well.

5) No TVs in the bedroom – this works well for adults as well, but studies have shown that TV still give off energy even when turned off, so it’s best to keep them entirely out of a child’s room. Yes, computers too, for safety’s sake, computers should be in the family office where Mom and Dad can keep an eye on them anyway, especially since so many of our three, four and five-year olds are learning how to use them.

Of course, a friend of mine always recommends the last resort, tongue in cheek; if you REALLY want a good night sleep, send them to Grandma’s house.

Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt is a writer and Holistic Health Coach living

with her husband, son and three cats just outside of Washington DC.

She takes a whole mind-body-spirit approach to health and well-being

and teaches her clients to do the same. Blog:


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Comments (27)

Beautifully written article with amazing advice that I'll use tonight! Thank you!
Wow..sounds like something we will definitely try! Thanks Dr. Kelly, some great ideas!
I am trying this tonight, wish me luck. My 5 year old wants to fight me every night on this. I've considered just putting him in the garage (weather permitting) and letting him cry it out. Your solution makes more sense.
I was never taught relaxation techniques until I came back from an overseas deployment. This works for adults, too, in a pinch, before they take it out on their children. As a parent, nanny, and preschool teacher, I learned to begin the quieting process a full hour before I wanted someone to sleep or rest. This means no tv or other adrenaline pumping activity. Soft music is a key ingredient! Thank you, Stacia, for allowing us all to feel "we're not the only ones" with this problem. Great article!
outstanding...... very insightful :-)... well written.
Funny how sometimes the simplest things work best! I actually do similar techniques to de-stress & sleep, but hadn't thought of applying them to a child. Great ideas-- will be applying to the 5 yr. old very soon. :)
This seems like such a good idea. I know it's important not to get into an angry place or a power struggle at night (with your kids or your spouse or every yourself). My kids are pretty good about going to bed these days but I think I want to use some of these techniques on myself!
Excellent article. Terrific Ideas!
Stacia, this is great info! I wish I'd had it when my teenagers were babies. ;-)
I use every one of these techniques for myself as well as our son. And at times, I've been known to use them on my husband because he swears he's an insomniac ;) He's not; he just has programmed himself to be up late. ~Stacia
Awesome article. Will be very helpful information to give to my postpartum moms with young siblings. Wish I would have info like this when my children were young :)
Dear Moms: Dr Kelly's plan really works. I am the grandmother of her little boy and once under the covers he is fast asleep in 10 minutes !! as long as he and I employ our winding down routine.
Wonderful advice for all Moms and Dads!! We all welcome (and desperately need) great ideas to put "peace and relaxation" back into our lives and our child's life. Thanks Stacia!!
Very nice. I'm going to try this with my 10 year old who still struggles with falling asleep. About the light - per Chromotherapy, which is the power of color in healing and setting up a particular mood or state of mind - red is a stimulating color so probably best to avoid it as a night light. Green is calming and relaxing; purple is soothing and brings sleep.
Cynthia, I wish I could agree about the light! But red has shown to be non impacting on the REM sleep cycle. If I use another color, I get more wakeups! .-= Stacia D. Kelly´s last blog ..Hypnosis & Childbirth =-.
Thanks for putting up this article. I'm unquestionably frustrated with struggling to search out germane and rational comment on this subject. Everybody nowadays goes to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint that either: everyone else in the planet is wrong, or two that everyone but them does not really understand the situation. Many thanks for your concise, applicable insight.
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I usually don’t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, amazing work.. beautiful …
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Mothering › Toddler Articles › Guest Blogger Stacia D. Kelly on Peaceful Bedtime