Maybe your family is like ours. We require sleep to live a happy, relatively harmonious life. We don’t buy into this “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality or accept that not sleeping is normal for children or adults. I need sleep to be the type of Mom I want to be and to be able to take care of others. My husband is an air traffic controller so we all want him well rested! My 5-year-old twin boys need sleep to help with learning, mood and behavior. In this article, I’ll explain how sleep affects behavior (with a very personal example) and how parents can integrate healthy sleep habits and positive parenting so you can keep the whole family happy!
SLEEP AFFECTS BEHAVIOR
When we are overtired, we see the effects on the way that we function individually and as a family unit. As a certified child behavior specialist and a certified child sleep consultant, families seek help from me because they are experiencing sleep and/or behavior issues and want to solve these challenges so they can have a more harmonious, healthy and balanced life (as harmonious as it can be with little people with minds of their own!). As parents, sometimes we focus on sleep because we want it, but sleep is also crucial to keeping our children functioning at their best.
CASE STUDY ON SLEEP & BEHAVIOR: MY FAMILY
Here’s a story about my family and how I handled a challenging time in our lives. As parents, it’s important to understand how sleep is linked to behavior, and how we can integrate positive parenting into sleep habits and setting our children up for success.
Flashback to September 5, 2018. My twin boys had just turned four and were starting pre-k. We were coming out of a summer filled with fun, late-ish bedtimes, missed naps and SUGAR. In other words, they were living their best life!
Neither boy had napped that day, which was becoming increasingly more common. As we were getting into the car after school, they were wild! They weren’t listening; hopping in the front of the car and honking the horn; and generally acting like wild animals. I tried to keep my cool, but I ended up yelling. Yes, I am human. When I lose my cool, we all end up feeling terrible afterwards, but especially me. After I got them buckled into their seats (I was sweating at this point!) and starting driving, they both started yelling at me and crying “what’s for dinner?” I thought to myself “wow – they are hungry tonight! maybe that explains it,” but then as the night progressed and they had eaten dinner, their behavior didn’t improve like it normally does.
There was lots of whining and fighting between them, lots of crying and plenty of stalling tactics to delay bedtime. They didn’t want to their brush teeth; they didn’t want to take a bath or to have bubbles in the bath. Then they didn’t want to wear these pajamas, they wanted to wear those pajamas. Then they couldn’t pick a book. We’ve had the same bedtime routine since they were 6 months old and bedtime isn’t usually this much of a hot mess.
Finally, by 7:30, I left their room and collapsed on the couch, racking my brain trying to figure out why this night in particular had been SO difficult. I dismissed it as them starting in a new classroom a couple day earlier.
However, this type of night became a common occurrence over the next few days. I was so close to the situation, I had a hard time seeing that my kids were REALLY overtired from dropping their nap and were adjusting to a new classroom and new friends, and the end of all that summer fun. It was displaying itself as behavioral issues and because I was so tired myself, my reactions weren’t helping my children and were actually making it worse.
WHAT I DID TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION
I talked to friends, colleagues and my husband because I needed some outside perspective. I tend to be action oriented and like to put a plan into action quickly so we can go back to ‘normal’. So that’s what I did and now I’m going to share the tools I used and exactly what I did to get us all back on track.
Maybe this story resonates with you – maybe you’ve been at this same or a similar place. If so, I feel you! Read on for my top tips that will help you navigate all sorts of parenting challenges, all while helping you to preserve your integrity and your child’s self-esteem!
POSITIVE PARENTING TOOL #1: BE KIND TO YOURSELF
I gave myself some grace about my lack of patience and getting frustrated with my kids.
As parents, we are human and always try our best, but we make mistakes and lose our temper. When we don’t feel good ourselves– we are overtired and short on our reserves to take care of other people’s wants, because our proverbial cup is empty. Or sometimes it’s because parenting is just plain challenging and often, we’re learning on the fly!
Getting angry is going to happen – the key is to acknowledge it, apologize to your kids and spouse and then try to do better moving forward so you are modeling the behavior you want them to emulate. Prioritizing yourself and your self-care can also help make you the parent you want to be!
POSITIVE PARENTING TOOL #2: PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR KIDS’ SHOES
I put myself in my kids’ shoes and try to understand the world from their perspective.
When it feels like my husband or I are butting heads with our boys, I try to take a step back and open myself up to a different lens on the situation. They had some big things going on with not napping, new teachers and a new classroom.
My boys aren’t “bad” kids. They act up because they are overtired and developmentally, they can only handle so much without melting down, especially when overtired. Their sweet brains won’t be fully developed until they are 25 years old – I continually have to remind myself of that and that it is my job to be the calm in their storm.
POSITIVE PARENTING TOOL #3: MOVE BEDTIME EARLIER
I moved bedtime EARLY and stayed consistent!
I remembered that my children’s disposition around dinner time is a good indicator of how well rested they are and then move bedtime earlier. What does early mean?
On days when they were transitioning to no nap, I put them down for bed at 6:15-6:30 pm. You read that right! 4-year olds going to bed at 6:15-6:30 pm!
Why? When overtired, an early bedtime will help them to recoup their sleep debt and fill their sleep tank back to full. The sleep in the beginning of the night is extra nourishing, so an early bedtime allows them to get more of that nourishing sleep. This will help to expedite the process of them becoming well rested again.
Don’t worry about an early wake time with an early bedtime. An early bedtime actually works in reverse. In overtired children, an early bedtime can result in a later wake time. It’s not logical, it’s biological!
Once they were well rested again, I pushed their bedtime back to their normal 7:00 – 7:15 pm.
Also, I stayed consistent with their routine and didn’t deviate. I set limits on the number of books, the number of songs and the number of hugs and kisses so it didn’t start pushing bedtime too late again and further the overtired downward spiral.
POSITIVE PARENTING TOOL #4: FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
I focused on the positive.
“I love how you said I’m mad, instead of yelling, Ryan.”
When we are in a challenging time, it can be easy to only focus on the behaviors we don’t want. Have you heard of the expression “what you focus on you get more of?” If we focus on our children’s positive decisions and positive behaviors, you’ll start to see more of those behaviors. This can make the most dramatic and quickest shift in behavior – almost overnight! Also focus on the improvements – progress, not perfection!
POSITIVE PARENTING TOOL #5: THE FAB FOUR
I instituted what I like to call “The Fab Four” parenting strategies to help with some of the behavioral issues.
“I know you are really mad. I would be mad too, Nick.”
A surefire way to increase cooperation and decrease tension is to validate your child’s feelings. It immediately takes away 50% of the angst. This is the equivalent of having a disagreement with your spouse or your mother and then with sincerity they say, “you’re right.” It takes the fight out of the situation, right?
It then opens up your child to listen to what you are trying to share with them or teach them.
“Look at Ryan’s face, he is crying because it hurt when you hit him.”
Showing children how their behavior impacts those around them and the world around them is a powerful tool for teaching.
TELL THEM WHAT THEY CAN DO
“Nick, you can’t change your pajamas again, but you can pick which socks you want to wear.”
We want to reframe using the word “no” so that it communicates what we want to stop, but we also want to let them know what behavior is ok to do. This way we are changing behaviors and educating at the same time! It works miracles!
LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OR THE PUNISHMENT MATCHES THE CRIME
“Because we spent so much time getting dressed, now we can’t read two books, but we can read one.”
One of the hardest parts of parenting is trying to figure out the appropriate discipline. We aren’t looking to make our children pay for their mistakes or shame them. But rather I look at mistakes as teachable moments. I always try to ensure that the punishment is a logical or natural consequence to the misbehavior.
Why do we take this approach? We want children to think for themselves. It is ok for children to make a bad decision, as long as it’s not life threatening or morally threatening. We learn from our mistakes. We want children to learn how to think and not just what to think so when they get older, they have the right decision-making abilities once the stakes are higher. They come to realize that there are consequences to their behavior and begin to think about how they act.
A HAPPY ENDING
This story has a happy ending! Within a month, my boys were fully adjusted to not napping during the day; they were well rested again and the behavior issues we were experiencing, were far less frequent. We were truly able to enjoy each other and parenting was a lot more fun. Truth be told, we wound up overtired again after all the Christmas chaos and had to get back to using some of the tools above to get back on track. Parenting is a work in progress!
If you need help getting sleep and/or tools to help with your child’s behavior, please sign up for a free 15-minute intro call so I can learn a little more and we can figure out the best way to bring more harmony to your house and life!
Originally posted in the Ellie App.