5 kids and 16 years after first becoming parents, we have a trick or two up our sleeves for getting kids to stay in their beds. Most nights that is. And around here, desperation is the mother of invention.
We've had every type of sleeper in this house. So to get these maniacs to sleep means we had to get creative. We are parents of the easy-to-put-to-bed-kid, the has-to-be-rocked-to-sleep-kid, the I-need-101-glasses-of-water-and-tuck-ins-kid, the-I-have-bad-dreams-and-don't-want-to-fall-asleep-kid, and last but not least, the I-only-want-to-sleep-with-you kid.
We don't even have to talk about the "can-sleep-anywhere" kid!
I present to you our 5 tried and true bedtime strategies that I'm guessing you never read about in a parenting book because they are just too weird. But, they might just work on the crazies under your roof, they did for ours.
- The Easy To Put To Bed Kid. Bedtime Strategy: Whispered Dreams. While this kid is easy to put to sleep, they shall not be overlooked in this household. No matter what, these people demand their share of attention, even the so called easy ones. We do the usual book, prayers and tuck in, but to give bedtime that special touch we use a little thing we call Whispered Dreams. Simply ask your sleepy kiddo to tell you what they want to dream about and whisper this in their ear slowly and sleepily. Your cherub can close their eyes and imagine the dream they are going to have as they drift off to sleep. I spend at least 101 nights whispering, "Dora the Explorer" and "Anna and Elsa" into little ears. This strategy sets the kiddo up for sleeping success by giving them a little attention and something to focus on.
- The Has To Be Rocked to Sleep Kid. Bedtime Strategy: Sleepy Dust. The goal here is to get the kid off your lap and into their bed. We pay attention to their body and help them get comfy and ready for sleep with a little mindful relaxation disguised as a special bedtime trick. We start at their toes and sprinkle "sleepy dust" over each body part. This is invisible of course, do not let them talk you into using glitter no matter how desperate you are. After sprinkling the dust above each body part we give a little massage and have our sweet bedtime friend imagine each body part getting very relaxed and sleepy. We finish off with Whispered Dreams and a bedtime blessing. This one worked like a charm for easily 2 years with one of our tough customers.
- The I Have Bad Dreams and Don't Want To Fall Asleep Kid. Strategy: Weapons Journal. For the fear filled kiddo, bedtime can be rough. When our son started having bad dreams and bedtime fears we started a Weapons Journal. He would draw a weapon he would bring into his dream to fight the bad guys. Things like squirt guns filled with something sticky that would trap them. Or a freeze ray to make his enemies stay put. Or a giant feather that would tickle them until they couldn't move. Keep the focus off the violent and on the funny to keep things light. Then he would sleep with the journal right by him so he could access the weapons in his dream. He swore the weapons showed up in his dreams and it kept him in his bed. Win/Win.
- The I Need 101 Glasses of Water and Tuck in Kid. Strategy: The Bedtime Spa Scene and Pillow Turn Around For this kid, you need to play to their sense of drama and love of being cared for. A special bedside table with a book and flashlight in case they can't sleep, a special glass of water or water bottle, a picture of something comforting and all their pillows and lovies are crucial. Basically, set their sleeping area up like a little spa so their little behinds stay in bed. They should have everything they need by their bed before you leave the room. (A strange but true trick that works for this type of kid is also to have them put their pillow at the foot of the bed and change their sleeping direction if they are tempted to get up and get you for another tuck in. For some reason this resets them and they fall asleep. This was my strategy as a kid when I couldn't sleep and it worked every time.)
- The I Only Want to Sleep with You Kid. Strategy: The Everyone Loves You Song Every one of our kids loved this at some point, but it works wonderfully for the kid who wants you by their side as they drift off. My mother-in-law taught us a little song she used that basically entails us singing the names of everyone who loves our kid on a loop. So, to the tune of On Top of Spaghetti, we sing: "Grandma and Grandpa, love sweet little _insert name here_, and Mommy and Daddy, they love you too...". Repeat and add new names until you run out, then loop it all back again. This focuses the kiddo on his or her people and safety. Most often they will drift off before you are all the way through but if not, they can sing themselves to sleep or you could even record it for them to listen to.
These strategies will only work if you draw a clean line in the sand with kids. You are going to do X, Y & Z to help them sleep, but once you are done tucking them in you are not repeating any of this madness or adding to it.The work is done before your butt hits the couch so your butt can stay there. And you are about teaching kids you are there to help them, but they can also help themselves. You may have to repeat, "Go to bed." over and over like a loon, but once a certain hour hits, we are off duty my friends.
Use these strategies as a springboard for coming up with your own special family bedtime tricks. The best work we do as parents comes from things we make up in the trenches in moments of sheer desperation. For every one of these tips there was a night when we felt like we were being held hostage by a sleepy tyrant. We had to get creative to get ourselves to the couch to binge watch Orphan Black and in that moment brilliance was born. Our kids look back on these as special moments and at the same time they learned they can manage much of this on their own now. Balancing the special with the teaching is what it's all about, even when we just want everyone to GET TO BED.
A version of this post originally appeared on Parent.co.