The other day, I posted an Instastory referencing nap time (more specifically and rather unflatteringly, I commented that the thirty minutes prior to the start of naptime always feel like an eternity) and was overwhelmed by the number of direct messages I received asking about the sleep habits of my children. The volume made me realize two things:
- All of us with young children are exhausted and over-extended during this period of around-the-clock childcare. We will do anything to earn an extra couple of minutes of nap time in the afternoon or sleep in the morning. I see you. I am you!
- Most of us wonder whether we are doing the right thing with regards to bedtime/nap routines.
So today I thought I’d share our sleeping schedule. Maybe some of this will help a mom struggling to find a routine, or maybe some of this will simply quiet the over-active impulse to doubt ourselves as mothers: “But is anyone else doing what I’m doing…? Shouldn’t my baby be sleeping more?!” But a big caveat here: I am not saying I know how to get children to sleep (there are experts who do this…! I have several friends who have hired them!) or that I am doing anything “the right way.” I am just sharing what we’re doing in the hopes that peering over my shoulder may encourage you or at least give you insight into another mother’s blundering thoughts on the matter.
My general rejoinder to any conversations about parenting, here, as elsewhere: you know your own children best and are doing the absolute best you can. Trust yourself.
Micro (almost one year) takes two naps: 10-11:30 A.M. and 3-4:30 P.M. Sometimes he sleeps a bit longer, especially in the morning, and I rather fastidiously follow the rule of “never wake a sleeping baby,” even if I find myself grappling with worry over what this will mean for the afternoon nap or bedtime. My assumption is that he needs the sleep–maybe he woke a few times in the night or was particularly active and needs to refresh himself with an extra twenty or thirty minutes of rest. If this derails later naps/bedtimes, it can be disruptive to my own routine (and–to be blunt–frustrating, as it means I am on call for the one long stretch of quiet I have each day), but has never caused a long-term issue: things re-set at night and we’re back on track the following morning. On rare occasion, usually when teething, he protests his afternoon nap. I will let him fuss for a full thirty minutes before throwing in the towel. When I say “fuss,” I mean “fuss.” If he is full-on crying, I will go in there and soothe him, try to get a burp out, rock him for a bit, rub his back, etc. But if he is doing that eleven-month-old thing where he’s playing for a minute, grabbing his toes, then whining and whimpering, then playing, then silence, then calling my name? I let him do that for up to thirty minutes before giving up. I see it as an elaborate wind-down period for him, and the proof is in the pudding: he nearly falls asleep. On occasion, I am also fluid with the time I put him down. If he wakes particularly early one morning or is giving me overt signs of exhaustion (rubbing eyes, whining), I put him down early for his naps. And if he took a particularly long morning nap or slept in, I push back afternoon nap by fifteen or thirty minutes.
He wakes — like clockwork — at six in the morning. Thankfully, most mornings, he will wake up and “play” in his crib — gurgling and shrieking to himself for maybe five or ten minutes before he starts to demand his morning bottle. This is a true godsend because it means I have a five minute “snooze” button before I really need to jolt out of bed and get him.
We put him down at night at around 6:30 p.m., though the exact time depends on his mood and when he woke from his afternoon nap. Sometimes, I can just see he’s not yet ready for bed at 6:30 — he’s bouncing off the walls, laughing, throwing me coy and silly glances. If this is the case, I read an extra few books and dim the light to encourage him to “settle down” or put mini down first. I know what will happen if I foist him into the sleepsack when he’s too energized: he will refuse bedtime and I will be stuck going into his room two or three times until he’s settled down. I’d rather just keep him up for 15 minutes and nail the bedtime once.
And on that front: when bedtime does go haywire (and it does, from time to time!), I have had incredible luck with micro doing what I call “a hard reset.” This means that I have already gone into his room and soothed him once or twice to no avail and have addressed all the most common culprits: a) is he too hot or too cold?; b) is he still hungry? (I will offer him up to an extra 4 oz of formula); c) does he have a burp? (honestly — this is the issue about 80% of the time!); d) does he have a dirty diaper?; e) is he teething? (not much you can do about teething except offer Tylenol, but still good to know if that’s the issue). If I’ve checked all of those conditions and he is still upset, I embark on “the hard reset.” I turn off the sound machine and take him out of his crib. I walk him into the narrow corridor in front of his room and let his eyes slowly adjust to the light peeking in from the dining room. I then walk him slowly, calmly around the entire apartment as he looks around in confusion. I rub his back. I kiss him. I hug him. I sit with him on my lap on the couch until he is truly, fully calm. Usually around this point he starts reaching around to wriggle onto the floor or engage with something else — and that’s my cue to get up, calmly walk him back to his bedroom, turn back on the sound machine, and go through our nightly routine again: prayers, affirmations, lullabies, and I leave him with a little extra formula. This works shockingly well. I don’t want to jinx it, but I actually have never had this not work with him to date. I think something about taking him out of the bedroom, distracting him with a brief tour of common sights, soothing him fully resets the system and enables him to clip into sleep mode more easily. It’s almost as if that extra five minutes of sudden and unanticipated stimulation–bright lights! sounds! sights!–exhausts him and he’s like, “Oh yeah. I guess I am sleepy.”
He will very rarely wake up at night these days — praise God. (Mini did not sleep through the night consistently until one year of age; micro has been doing so since around eight months.) The only exception is when he is teething. We’ve gone through a few patches where he’s woken up 1-2x a night and it’s almost always when a tooth has been coming through his gums. (He has eight teeth, and half of them arrived in the past few weeks.) There’s not much I can do besides offer Tylenol or go in and soothe–just one of those times where I need to buckle up and ride it out.
A couple of you asked how I settled on this routine — the hippie but truthful answer is: it settled on us. I think some time around six months of age, he started to resist having three naps a day. He’d just lay there and cry. And so we started skipping the second nap and suddenly his two naps extended in length and we’ve been in a groove since. Bedtime has also been fluid: for awhile, we put him down closer to 7, and then daylight savings happened and — eh! Here we are, at a 6:30 bedtime and 6 a.m. wakeup.
Mini is three years old and has not napped since the tender age of just-turned-two. (Sigh.) For awhile, we transitioned to “quiet time,” where we’d give her books and toys in her crib or on this mat in her bedroom. (Something about setting her up in that mat made it feel more like a dedicated, intentional space for activities — she liked that. Very Montessori.) I would say this worked about half the time, to be honest. The other half of the time, she’d cry or wander out of her room and we’d just roll with it. Then she started going to school from 8:30-3 and they’d offer her nap time there — which, much to our shock (peer pressure?!), she’d occasionally avail herself of! Since the dawn of quarantine, however, we’ve shifted around our screen time rules and we now let her play with her iPad during micro’s afternoon nap. This means that we all get about an hour and a half of free time in the afternoons, and I really need that quiet time. We all really need it. I received a number of questions about what she does on her iPad: we have the PBSKids game and video apps as well as Disney+ app (with parental controls configured) installed and she will use those to access shows and games she likes. This routine has had the added benefit of making screen time boundaries very clear for her. She never asks for the iPad any other time of the day because she knows it will always be a firm: “No, not until your brother sleeps in the afternoon.” If you are contemplating the purchase or handing-down of an iPad for your toddler, we use this iPad case, which is genius because it protects the iPad and also stands up on its own on a surface (great for planes/trains/propping up in cars). Our approach has been to limit the number of apps available to her, and PBS and Disney feel like trusted friends. I am very intrigued by the Play Osmo setup, though I feel that at her age, the Osmo would need more careful chaperoning and supervision for set-up/explanation and at this point, I’d rather keep the rest of her day screen-free (or screen-light).
Which brings me to another question I received: what do I do with mini during micro’s morning nap? I use the morning nap as my dedicated one-on-one time with mini. We almost always do at least one of these activities during that time period, and I try my hardest to be engaged and present. The fact that we always do something constructive/engaging/educational during this first nap makes me feel like the afternoon iPad session is balanced.
Mini wakes at around six (it’s always a guessing game as to which child will wake us earlier) and goes to bed at around 6:45, just after her brother. This simplifies things tremendously. Mini has always been a breeze at bedtime — it’s rare and alarming when she gives us trouble, and it almost always means she’s coming down with a cold or over-exhausted by the day. We brush teeth, say prayers and affirmations, read a book (here are my favorite bedtime books), and then I sing her a lullaby and leave. She always gets up once (occasionally twice) after this and asks for “one more hug and kiss” from both Mr. Magpie and myself and we let her. We know we can expect her eager little face peering out from her bedroom door at least once within the ten or twenty minutes after lights are out, and once we accepted these visits as “part of the bedtime routine” (versus telling her “do not get out of bed!”), the entire thing just clicked into place and it’s frankly felt easy since. She does come into our bedroom in the middle of the night every few nights, and we’re not totally sure what to do about it. Often, I just get up and “put her back to bed” and she seems OK with this. Sometimes, she begs to get into bed with us, and most of the time, we let her. I am more of the softie on this front. I can’t quite tell what the rule should be right now, so we’re playing it fast and loose until we see if this is just a phase, which most things are.
One last note on bedtime: one relatively new addition to our familial routine has been family story time about five minutes before I intend to put micro down. We clean up the toys in Hill’s nursery together and then I let mini select the book. She likes to roll out a blanket on his floor while Hill stands in his crib and I read to both of them. Then she knows it’s her cue to turn on his sound machine and say goodnight–and she happily leaves, knowing she has a couple of minutes of free play herself before I start getting her ready for bed. I love that the story brings us all together and quiets us. It’s also the perfect way to signal to mini that bedtime is not far off for her — and to interrupt their evening playtime in a gentle way. Strongly recommend if you have two small children who go to bed one after the other as ours do.
What’s working for you?!
Post-Scripts: New Finds for Children.
BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL (SOMEHOW MINI NEVER OWNED THIS!)
+Honestly we have SO many books from mini that Hill has not had many new ones of his own (which is fine!), but the two I have loved most for micro (that I did not have with mini): Freight Train and Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?
+Just ordered hats and sandals for both children with the sudden onset of warm weather. Both children have FlapHappy sunhats (Emory’s in white and Hill’s in blue seersucker) and Harding Lane ball hats as well as Salt Water Sandals (Hill’s are in this saddle brown and mini’s are in the sweetheart style in the white).
+Loving these classic sneakers for a little boy. I love a shoe like this, which will work with almost any outfit, no matter how dressed up or down.
+Just ordered Hill two more sleepsacks from Kyte. These, along with Woolino, were the most commonly upvoted sleepsacks from Magpie readers. I love both, but Kyte are about 2/3 the price of Woolino and, from what I can tell, just as well-made! I also love some of the colors/prints Kyte has come out with recently, too.
+How precious is this personalized birthday hat for a little lady?!
+Love this Lilly-esque bow for a little gal.
+Speaking of: I love a classic Lilly shift on a little lass.
+Ordered a set of these plates — they have the greatest colors!