Imagine this, it’s mid-pandemic, we’re all at home 90% of the time, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, working, trying to find time to shower and using every waking minute of every day to get sh*t done, and both your kids take forever to fall asleep and have you up in the night as well – sometimes simultaneously. It’s an exhausting picture – and sadly one I think many of you will be familiar with. The only respite parents get during lockdown is the time when their kids are asleep so it drives you a little bit insane when they don’t sleep at all! I was at my wit’s end. Most days ended with me shouting or drinking wine. I needed to find a solution and claim some time, just a morsel, for myself again. It was at this point I realised that I had to get my kids sleeping better and I needed help doing it.
Now this quest may seem entirely selfish, but actually, it really wasn’t – you see my kids were nicer, happier, more patient, and energetic when they slept well so this was for all of us. There really was no downside to helping them sleep deeper and longer during the night. But the biggest question I had was – HOW?
My son, Max, who’s 6 years old, has been a challenging sleeper since he was born, and we have sought help on several occasions, from remotely to hands-on – but nothing ever worked longer than a few weeks. It is true to say that my husband and I had not had uninterrupted sleep since he was born. I knew that as time went on things were going to get trickier and trickier when it came to adjusting his sleep pattern but we really had tried everything. So when JJ, my second, was born and Max was nearly four – we gave up. JJ, unlike Max, was much happier falling asleep on his own and sleeping through the night from the get-go, but when we went into lockdown and needed a home office we moved them into the same room and Max started waking JJ in the nights! It was awesome! NAAAAAAT.
Enter sleep expert, Cara Treadwell, founder of The Sleep Method. Cara specialises in helping children sleep better, from babies to age 7. For me, her superpowers lie in the older age groups as this is an area that not many people help with. Cara and I set up a zoom call to discuss Max’s sleeping habits. I told her that he is scared of the dark, scared of being on his own, needs someone to stay with him whilst he’s falling asleep and in the middle of the night will come and get either my husband or me to help him go back to sleep, often waking JJ in the process. Before Cara started talking me through her suggested strategies, I wrongly assumed that she may suggest many of the things that we had tried (with no success) before. In fact, I was completely blown away by Cara’s kind, gentle and child-centric approach and her ideas – I had literally never heard of them before and if I am honest I massively questioned how they would actually translate to a full night’s sleep for Max. But I could not believe it – and this is NO WORD OF A LIE – Max was sleeping through by night three and he continued to sleep through every night till my next follow up call with Cara two weeks later (not to mention he still is sleeping through now!). It is worth mentioning that Cara’s approach is totally personalised so what might work for one child, may not work for another. She took extensive notes during our calls about Max’s routine, his likes and dislikes, his temperament, his strengths and weaknesses. Below are just a few of the strategies that I think were hugely instrumental in helping Max adapt to being able to take control of his sleep patterns, and, perhaps most importantly, let mummy and daddy have a full night’s sleep too!
All children absolutely love some one on one attention from their parents. Cara suggested that Max and I schedule some time for 20 minutes where we do something that Max has suggested. And we need to do it in his bedroom to help him spend more time in it! Max is currently obsessed with Pokemon cards and so we spent much of the time looking at all his different cards. The one rule was that absolutely no phones/screens were allowed – Cara said “I’d rather you did 5/10 minutes of totally focussed time with Max with no phones rather than 30 minutes where you’re checking your phone every few minutes”.
These were hilarious and the kids absolutely loved them. Each night we were asked by Cara to hold a bedroom party – in the dark! “The main goal is to have fun and ensure there is lots of laughter!” Cara told me, “We want to show our children that their sleep space isn’t scary and that the dark can be fun! As parents, it’s a great time to look around the room and scan for any scary shadows and shapes that you could remove.” We got some glow sticks and played some loud music and danced around and chucked cuddly toys – it was quite a bit of effort but the kids loved it and further helped them to connect with their bedroom and see it as a positive, happy, fun place.
Cara reminded me that because Max was older he needs to be communicated with a lot more about bedtime; “Often we forget to tell our children what we expect from them around bedtime. We assume they know! Communicating changes you plan on making is imperative. Prep your child days and weeks ahead if you can. Talk to them about how and why you want to help them sleep, it takes a while for this to sink in so you will need to repeat yourself. Aim to do this away from sleep when they are in a good mood. As well as being asked questions about his fears of the dark etc.” When I first told Max that we were going to get a lovely sleep lady to help him sleep better I could tell he was anxious about it – especially since we had practiced harsher tactics in the past that hadn’t worked. But then when he spoke to Cara via facetime he just loved her and it really helped him connect with the whole process. Furthermore, when I told him about her strategies this was his response “That all sounds like a dream, mummy! When are we starting?”.
Max loves to be cosy and sleeps with an extraordinary amount of cuddly toys – so many that Nick and I would often go and remove them once asleep assuming that they would make him uncomfy and wake him up. Cara told me to stop doing this “Nesting is a great way to help children feel safe in their beds. You can encourage children to create a nest themselves when they wake in the middle of the night too” said, Cara. Max gains a lot of security and comfort from feeling totally nested with all these soft animals and creatures around him, and I think this helped him a lot to feel cosy in the night.
For help from Cara, take a look at her website: thesleepmethod.co.uk
words by Sadie Reid