When kids are taking what feels like a long time to fall asleep, the first thing to consider is who is determining when sleep happens. If it is the parent, that would be a huge contributing factor; the child may not be ready for rest on the parent’s schedule or even if they happen to be, they resist the control.
So it’s evening. Your child says they’re ready for sleep so you’re laying down together.
You’re distracted; you’re thinking about what’s next… watching TV or getting the dishes done or spending time with your partner.
You’re impatient; this is taking far longer than you expected, you wish they would hurry up and fall asleep.
You’re frustrated; it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying to go to sleep, they’re chatting away to you about something, they’re rubbing their face, they’re moving a lot actually. Can somebody really fall asleep like that?
An hour passes. You’re increasingly agitated, maybe you’ve held it in, maybe not but eventually they’re finally asleep.
How torturous was that hour? How slow did it seem to go? Did it feel like a waste?
And how do you feel now that it is over? Still pretty strung out right? You can’t bare to face this all again tomorrow!
And you don’t have to.
You seek advice; my child takes so long to go to sleep every night, how can I speed it up?
Some might ask what they can do to make their child sleep. Some might ask what they can do to help their child sleep. But the intention is the same.
This should be faster, I need this to be faster.
But is that the right question?
What if it wasn’t the time it took that was the issue but how you were approaching that time.
Laying down next to a child. Having a conversation with a child. Watching a child move. They don’t exactly sound arduous when you really think about them.
Perhaps there is something else really going on?
So what if it was your expectations? What if it was your perspective corrupting this experience?
What if we rephrased the question; I had to spend an hour with my child, I want to spend less time with them, how can I make this happen?
Kind of stings right? It’s not exactly how you want to approach your relationship at all.
What if we rephrased again; I get to spend an hour with my child, how do I want to spend it?
I don’t want to be distracted. I don’t want to be impatient. I don’t want to be frustrated.
So let’s trace back the source of these feelings; it isn’t spending an hour with your child is it?
Perhaps you have too many other commitments, perhaps you’re tired, perhaps you’re worried about something else, perhaps you miss your partner. Those feelings are your unmet needs and what if you could find ways to meet them that didn’t involve diminishing time with your child?
What would it mean to accept that each night, this is happening; if you are guaranteed this time with your child winding down for sleep, how would you want to approach it?
What if you went all in? You engaged in the conversations, you didn’t hassle them about the way in which they settle, you committed to being there with them.
How would that change that hour for you, how would that change that hour for your child?
Would it feel torturous? Would it feel slow? Would it feel wasted?
Despite determining for themselves when they are ready for sleep, our children can take varying amounts of time to actually fall asleep. There could be many valid reasons for this that might also resonate with your circumstances; our children generally do follow each other to bed so if one is ready, the other comes also and that might not actually suit both. One of the benefits of a family bed is not having to co-ordinate between multiple locations.
They also value the time before sleep comes; the conversations and cuddles are an inviting way to spend time and this is part of the reason that they do want to come to bed even if it is originally initiated by their sibling.
And of course sometimes it is just difficult to actually fall asleep, I think most adults would have experience of those times when you are wanting to sleep but can’t seem to get the message to your body.
Plus it helps to remember that while traditionally, sleep is considered to happen when quiet and still, this is not the case for all people. So if a parent is trying to have a child conform to their expectation of how sleep best finds a person? They could actually be making things harder for their child.
So what if you could stop thinking of time with your kids as a burden by not thinking of time with your kids as a burden?
Maybe it could be as simple as that.
What if your child didn’t need to change in order for you to appreciate time with them? What if it was you that was holding you back?
If I’m invited to spend an hour with my child, I’m going to enjoy it. Whatever location that happens to occur. How about you?