Many of the parents I work with on sleep problems are feeling stuck—their child has a stubborn sleep problem that seems unfixable, and they feel powerless to correct it.
Two of the most common examples are kids who start the day painfully early in the morning (like 4 a.m.) are kids who resist bedtime for hours on end, finally falling asleep after 11 p.m.
These parents feel stuck because no matter what they do, they cannot seem to get their child to sleep later in the morning, or go to bed on time. They try lullabies and white noise, install room-darkening blinds, up their child’s calorie intake, and nothing works. Understandably, their problem-solving revolves around their child’s “witching hour,” whether it happens to be 4 a.m. or 9 p.m.
They focus on this unpleasant part of their day during which they seem to be completely unable to control what happens—anyone who has tried to get an unwilling toddler to go back to sleep at 4:30 a.m. knows this powerless feeling. Unfortunately, that type of tunnel vision often prevents parents from seeing what they can do to help their child move past their problem.
Focusing on feeling powerless isn’t fun, and it’s not a fruitful way to work toward solutions. What I tell these parents to do is lose the micro-focus on that one part of their child’s schedule—those groggy hours in the early morning, or the awful hours after bedtime. Instead, flip it—focus on the opposite end of your child’s sleep routine, the part that you can control. For early wakers, that’s bedtime. For bedtime-haters, that’s wake-up time.
So for a child waking at 4 a.m., this means that instead of focusing on forcing a not-tired child back to bed in the early morning, you focus on the flip side of her sleep schedule: Her bedtime. A child waking at 4 a.m. either needs an earlier bedtime or a later one. How do you figure out which? By tracking her sleep and using behavioral cues, which I describe in detail in my e-book “Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too.”
Likewise, when bedtime’s a battle, parents sometimes throw up their hands and say “There’s nothing I can do!” There is. By setting an appropriate wake-up time, you’ll help program your child’s body clock and pave the way for easier bedtimes. Again, this topic is covered in detail in RSS.
So when you’re stuck and feeling powerless over your child’s sleep, lose the micro-focus. Flip the problem by looking at the other end of your child’s sleep routine, and see if the solution doesn’t pop out at you.