by Patti Teel
If you are expecting a baby and already have one or more children, it's wise to solve their sleep problems before the new baby arrives. Remember, a newborn typically awakens every three to four hours (editor's note: or more often) and adapting to a new baby's schedule is very tiring for everyone in the house.
If you also have a toddler or a child who is having a difficult time falling asleep, or who regularly gets out of bed during the night, the stress of this is likely to hinder your ability to get much-needed rest. By solving your child's sleep problems in the months before the new baby arrives, the entire family will be in a better position to enjoy the newest member of the family with the least amount of sleep interruptions as possible.
The two most frequent children's sleep problems are not being able to fall asleep and awakening during the night unable to fall back asleep. Brief night wakening is normal. However, once kids learn to fall asleep independently at bedtime, they are likely to be able to fall back asleep when they briefly awaken during the night. In contrast, children who have difficulty falling asleep by themselves at bedtime usually have the same problem when they awaken during the night.
If you have been rubbing your child's back or lying down with him until he falls asleep, recognize that he has probably grown accustomed to the attention and will have a difficult time falling asleep without it. If you abruptly withdraw your attention and expect your child to fall asleep on his own, he will be understandably upset -- and even more so if it coincides with the arrival of a new sibling.
It's true that after weeks of feeling forsaken, if you continually ignore your child's anguished pleas for attention, he will eventually begin to fall asleep on his own. However, it's not necessary for a child to be traumatized in this way. You can teach your child to relax himself to sleep while you gradually and systematically decrease your attention. And best of all, this step toward independence does not have to be a painful process for you or your child.
Create a consistent bedtime routine -- in a predictable calming environment that serves as a bridge between the excitement of daytime and the restful quiet of nighttime. The predictability of the routine and the special time of closeness will bring a wonderful sense of closure to your child's day and help him feel secure in your love.
If you have a two-parent household, be sure to continue to spend one-on-one time with your child during the bedtime routine -- while the other parent cares for the new baby.
Teach your child self-soothing techniques to fall asleep
Step One - Progressive relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle groups)
Have your child lie down in his bed. Lift each arm and leg individually, holding each limb tightly before loosely flopping it down on his bed. Then have him tense and relax other muscle groups in his body. For example, have him wrinkle his face and hold his eyes tightly closed, before relaxing his face. (Tense each muscle group for at least 5 seconds before releasing them and relaxing.)
Step Two - Focus on the breath
Once a child is thoroughly relaxed he will be ready to focus on the breath. Have him get very quiet and watch his own breath. Children don't need to try to change their breath in any way. This is a time to gather the senses that are usually focused on the outside world and turn them inward. It calms the mind and induces a state of relaxation.
Step Three - Creative visualization
Once a child is relaxed, read (or tell) a story that takes him on a soothing, imaginary journey. Visualization improves with practice and eventually children will be able to use their own imaginations to make up stories as they drift off to sleep.
Gradually, turn the process of falling asleep over to your child.
After the bedtime routine, continue to systematically give your child less and less direction as he uses self-soothing techniques to relax and fall asleep. At first, you may want to sit on the edge of your child's bed while he or she follows the relaxation directions on The Floppy Sleep Game Book CD. Or, you can teach your child to relax through a relaxation routine that you create yourself. Over a period of time, as your child becomes more familiar with the relaxation routine, sit further and further away until he or she no longer needs you in the room to relax and fall asleep.
Dubbed "The Dream Maker" by People magazine, Patti Teel is a former teacher and the author of The Floppy Sleep Game Book, which gives parents techniques to help their children relax, deal with stress or fall asleep. Patti holds Dream Academy workshops at schools, hospitals and libraries across the country where parents and children learn the playful relaxation techniques from her book and widely acclaimed children's audio series. Children at the Dream Academy workshops practice the three R's by resting their bodies, relaxing their minds and refreshing their spirits.
Copyright © Patti Teel. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.