Parenthood

Most of my work involves meeting families who are struggling to reach the 'Holy Grail' – night after night of uninterrupted sleep for everyone.

So, I'm sharing with you some of the more peculiar things kids do to fall asleep. Things I've seen over the years which should help parents realise that when it comes to sleep, anything goes. It really does. It should also comfort readers who think they are the only people in the world doing mad things to get some long-awaited kip! You are not alone...

Whatever your method for getting some shut-eye – a sense of humour can play an important role in any baby-management strategy. It will prevent tension from building up, helping the situation (and relationship) becoming things get out of control.

Most people enjoy indulging in their own personal little bedroom rituals before getting into bed and falling asleep. Here are some that caused problems for parents until we introduced a few changes to the ritual each night.

2. Hair pulling

Holly* loved pulling her mum’s long hair before she fell asleep, so more often than not, her mum needed to be close by at bedtime.

Then, Holly’s mum’s hair began falling out! So an alternative calming practice was called for. We came up with an experiment, where her mum agreed to wear a really tight, latex swimming cap at bedtime for a few nights so that the option of pulling hair was actually removed. After just a few nights she started to settle, and resettle herself during the night, without the need to pull on her mother’s hair.

3. Hand-holding

Luke* liked to hold a parent’s hand before nodding off. This habit is more common than you might think. Some babies, and even some older children like to hold onto mum or dad’s hand before falling asleep. This in itself is not such a big deal as long as it doesn’t take hours at bedtime, but sometimes little ones need to re-hold a parent’s hand when they wake during the night.

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Along the same lines as in Holly’s case, we introduced a scratchy, woolly glove; Luke soon learned to stop looking for a hand to hold to fall asleep.

4. Ear rubbing

I met one little guy who, when reading stories and chilling out, his ‘go-to comforter’ was either of his parents’ earlobes! He would reach up and rub them as a baby, and he held on to this as a comforter, even as he got older. I don’t think he actually cared who the ears belonged to.

This was only a part of the problem with his bedtime but was easily sorted by changing up the routine. Stories were removed from the bedroom and the habit quickly broke.

5. Motion

One little girl could only fall asleep day and night while being pushed around in her buggy. She loved being wheeled around the hall at night before going asleep. This would not have been too difficult for her parents if she had then proceeded to sleep until morning, but she frequently woke during the night. Her parents would have to go back downstairs, put her into the buggy and do a few more laps!

She didn’t expect this to happen in her crèche (and happily slept in her crèche cot). We therefore knew she was capable of settling herself. But soon enough, by changing the situation at bedtime, the ritual was forgotten.

6. Massage

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Something my own niece, Ava, used to love was having someone rub their fingers up her back as she relaxed. She called it ‘Rubby on my back’. It wasn’t necessarily a sleep association for her, but to this day (she’s now six-years-old), if we are sitting down to watch a movie, she will often just look up and say, ‘Rubby?’

7. Evicted parents

I have encountered many children, in the course of my work, who need their parents to lie with them at bedtime. Some babies and older children need their parents not only to lie down with them at bedtime, but also to stay all night.

Many parents stop sharing a bed for this reason. One parent is either evicted to the spare room or ends up in the baby’s room, while ‘junior’ occupies the parental bed for the night. These little ones, in turn, are languishing in the master bedroom with one or other parent. I remember visiting a house where ‘Dad’s Room’ was beautifully decorated with princess bed linen and princess wallpaper!

But this problem is not limited to children in their parents’ bed. There are parents who nightly hurl themselves over the bars of their baby’s cot, as baby refuses to sleep alone. In these cases, it happens because parents are insistent that they will not bring the baby into their bed so as not to create bad habits. But surely this is nearly worse! It’s a matter of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. This solution is not wise, safe or comfortable!

All of these situations are, and were, fixable. They don’t last forever. I promise!

* the children's real names have been changed.

Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Her book, No Fuss Baby & Toddler Sleep, is now available to buy from all good bookstores or online from Amazon.co.uk.

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sleep, sleep expert, sleep guru, sleep nanny, sleep deprived