Life with small children is far from boring. After a long and exhausting day, you as a parent need to recharge. It's the same for your kids, but they need to recharge more often than adults because of all the vital developmental things going on in their small sweet-smelling heads. Sleep is critical to your child's health and well-being. In fact, good sleep habits start from birth. Hence, it's time you start prioritizing your little one's sleep. A routine can help to bring some order to the chaos.
Is order, however, that simple? Sleep habits for your little bundles of joy aren't ‘one-size-fits-all’. Last week, we got down with Erin Junker, an infant and toddler sleep consultant, the founder of The Happy Sleep Company, and an amazing mom to gather insights, guidelines, and tips on children's sleep routine basics.
Q: Erin, can you tell us a bit about your story and what led you to be a sleep consultant.
A: I am the mom of an amazing little sleeper, who wasn't always an amazing little sleeper! (Long before I became a sleep consultant, of course!) When my daughter, Myla, was a baby, we had a tough time with her sleep - I could barely put her down for naps, and when I did, she would nap only 30-45 minutes and then be awake, crying, and tired, but unable to go back to sleep. So, we felt we needed to make a change, as our whole family was exhausted. After hiring a Sleep Consultant and sorting out how to help Myla sleep independently, we began to see her go back to sleep at that 45-minute mark and have longer naps!
A year or so later, when I was back to my 9-to-5 job, I was searching for something different - a career I was passionate about that would allow me more time with Myla, who was only about two years old at the time. An opportunity came up to train as an Infant Sleep Consultant; I took it, trained in the field, later started The Happy Sleep Company. Now we've worked with thousands of families to help them get the same healthy rest that my family achieved when Myla was a baby!
Q: One of the most significant values that we share and promote as a brand is sleep being viewed as a ritual. What are some crucial points to know about kids' sleep psychology/ bedtime rituals that most parents are unaware of?
A: Babies and toddlers love consistency. They love predictability. They do not like surprises in their scheduling! So, a great bedtime routine each night, done in the same order with the same elements, makes them feel safe and helps them understand and be more comfortable with what's coming up next (i.e., the big, long sleep in the crib!). A great bedtime routine might include a feed, bath, PJs and sleep bag, a couple of little stories and a song, and then into the crib with hugs and kisses!
Q: One of the challenges we personally faced was transitioning our toddlers from a crib to a bed. That's where one of our most unique products (the toddler duvet set) was developed. What is one of the most important things to keep in mind/ focus on while going through this exercise?
You've been sleeping in a "big bed" for decades, so of course, it comes completely naturally to you. However, if your child is ready to make the change from crib to bed, don't underestimate what a significant change this may be to him or her. This change represents an important milestone and another step towards becoming older and more independent. It can also come with some mixed emotions (excitement mixed with some fear and anxiety!) on the part of your kiddo and some serious patience-testing for you.
So, when your child is ready to transition out of a crib, try to make it as smooth as possible with these steps:
Make sure your little one is ready
For many parents, it can be tempting to move your child from a crib to a big bed as soon as they've turned two, but, as I've blogged about before, many children are not ready for the big kid bed until closer to 3-3.5 years of age. Try not to rush the transition (this is VERY important!) – if your child sleeps well in his crib without much complaint, don't make a change. Avoid putting pressure on your child by constantly emphasizing that he is a "big kid" now and, instead, simply mention it now and then, perhaps point out beds and fun sheets and pillowcases when you are out shopping with your child and wait for your little one to truly be ready to make the change.
Get your child involved in the switch
Let your child be part of the decision-making process about his new sleep space – ensure he's involved in picking out the new bed and bedding so that he picks a bed that makes him feel comfy and safe and he feels like he has some control over this very new situation.
Keep your child's room the same, if possible
Again, changing from a crib to a bed is already a big change, and many parents make the mistake of doing a total overhaul on the décor in their child's room or even switching to a new room altogether, while simultaneously making the switch to a big bed. Instead, I recommend that you try to avoid too much change at once, which can be stressful for some children. Keep décor the same for now (except perhaps for some fun new bedsheets!) and try to place the new bed in the same place (or as close as possible) to where the crib was.
Allow a comfort object
Amidst the big change of the big bed, your child may be longing for items that are familiar and provide comfort, like a favorite blankie or stuffy. Allow your child one comfort object in his new bed, so he feels safe and secure, but not a bunch of various items that will distract from sleep.
Keep your regular routines
If you are a former client of mine, you know I love routines! And, you know how a good, consistent bedtime routine can go a long way towards helping your little one prepare for a great sleep each night. Don't allow this to fall by the wayside when you make the transition to the big kid bed – routine is more important than ever to help your little one feel safe and familiar in this new situation.
Firmness and empathy
Again, this is a big change, and your child must understand that you recognize this. Commonly, your child may try to engage in a conversation when you attempt to leave the room at bedtime. To manage this, make a new rule that your child can ask one question/tell you one thing at bedtime before leaving the room. This will help him know that you are listening but putting boundaries on it will ensure that your child still understands that it is time for bed. If he still tries to engage you in conversation, you can tell him, "We'll talk about all of that tomorrow, but right now, it's sleep time." Be positive and respectful, but boring and consistent. If he tries to get out of bed, lead him back with minimal interaction (again, be boring!), and tell him, “It’s time for bed." Be patient but firm, so he understands that the rules about sleep have not changed just because the bed did!
Q: Let's talk about bedding! Is it an essential part of the overall kids' sleep success? What are some of the prerequisites and considerations for children's bedding?
A: For a crib, a fitted sheet only, so there is no loose bedding and no risk of suffocation due to loose sheets or blankets. Just a nice, clean, empty crib with a fitted sheet (i.e., no pillows, etc.). Babies often have very sensitive skin - so, it's a great idea to look for a crib sheet made of natural materials to avoid irritating the baby's skin. Babies' bodies also have trouble regulating their temperature, so a breathable fabric is best for the crib sheet. For older children, we want to focus on comfort - we want their bed to be an inviting, comfy, cozy place to be! So, a soft, breathable bedding choice is best.
For crib bedding, focus on breathability, softness (again, we want to avoid irritating that sensitive baby skin!) and a proper fit for safety. For an older child's bedding for their "big kid bed", focus on a soft material that will be comfortable and inviting to your child. Allow them to help you choose the color or design to make them part of the decision-making process - older children love this. It will make them much more engaged with their new bed set-up if you are in the midst of the crib-to-bed transition!
Q: What is one random interesting fact that we don't know about you?
A: I cannot eat avocados or quinoa - I have a massive intolerance to them and get very sick if I eat them, which is weird because they are not common allergens and also, like, the healthiest foods on earth. It's as though my body has decided to reject the most nutritious, "faddiest" foods on the planet. Also, I could eat both with no problem before I got pregnant! After, though? No dice.
At Dreams Jumper, we understand the value of having a sleep ritual, and we are committed to helping you in developing one that simplifies your life and helps you create a sanctuary.
Because our children are so precious, it's natural that their sleep can add to your concerns, but it's equally critical that you get enough sleep yourself. When life gets busy, it's easy to put off evening routines or forgo a few hours of sleep to get more things done, but that shouldn’t set you back from getting enough sleep.
So, to all those supermoms and super dads out there, cozy up and nap away because along with your little ones, you, too, deserve it!