Parenting expert Jo Frost gives step-by-step instructions to help the whole family get a good night’s sleep.
Jo Frost has been a parenting expert for 25 years and stars in Supernanny and Jo Frost: Nanny on Tour.
‘How do I get my child to sleep?’ ‘My baby won’t sleep - help!’
This is the number one question I’m asked, but the answer is simple. You don’t need fancy gizmos or a magic potion. You’ve already got everything you need – and that’s you. The way to do it, is to focus, detach from technology, and commit to a regular routine of bath, book and bed for 14 days. Do this and you’ll give your child, and yourself, the gift of a good night’s sleep.
When you see me on TV, implementing a bedtime routine is one of the first things I do. You need to establish the difference between day and night, and that happens with a bedtime routine. That’s why you see me coach families through bath, book and bed. It becomes a predictable ritual that creates stability and trust. A child needs trust to feel reassured and safe, in order to get a good sound night’s sleep. That’s when she knows she can slumber deeply, because she’s being taken care of by you. She needs to feel she’s tucked up safely underneath your wing.
But establishing a bedtime routine is more than just helping her make the transition from an energetic day to a peaceful night. It means that at the end of the day you are consciously aware that this is the last moment of her day, and you’re giving her your time. When you’re in the moment with your child, she isn’t chasing for your attention, and can relax. And then sleep will come easily.
Step One - Bath
Bathtime is the beginning of the transition from day to night, and there’s a reason for this. Babies and toddlers love the sensory experience of being surrounded by bubbles in lukewarm water. There’s something about immersing ourselves in a warm tub that really relaxes us. People think it’s different for kids, but it’s just the same as for adults.
If your child isn’t always happy about bathtime, then you need to make it a special part of her day. If it all seems like a chore, then she won’t enjoy having a bath. If you are happy about it, it becomes a special time. Entice her with the bath toys she loves to play with, and make it fun for both of you.
When it’s time to take her out of the bath and dry her, make sure it’s a lovely experience for her, with lots of cuddles, tickles and laughter. Warm the towel beforehand and enjoy the extra hugs, even if you get a bit damp yourself!
Step Two - Book
The next thing to do is to create the right atmosphere for a story. Think of it as setting the mood. For example, if you have a dinner party, you create an ambience for how you want the night to be for your guests. I think this is so important, because we are stimulated by what we see as well as what we feel. So, for a baby’s bedtime, you need to create a soothing atmosphere. Lower the lights, pull down the blinds and draw the curtains, so you show that it’s bedtime, and it’s time to wind down.
It’s important to behave in a way that shows that it’s time to rest. During the day we have big, loud volume. At bedtime we quieten down, and bring everything down a couple of levels. Children are very receptive to energy and to their surroundings. So, at bedtime put her into a situation that’s very calm. Think of how your child is at a kid’s birthday party – she isn’t going to stand there and be quiet, is she? She’s going to join in and be part of the energy of the party. By creating a low-key environment at bedtime, the easiest option for her is to calm down.
There are some very popular books at the moment that are designed to help your child go to sleep. And what they do is exactly what I encourage – they help parents to achieve the right level of calm, so they can encourage their child to fall securely to sleep. The books will help parents talk more s-l-o-w-l-y, like this, or whisper, like so. I say to parents, ‘Just bring it down’. The books can help you to do this, but you don’t really need them and can easily achieve the same outcome by yourself. You can choose any book you and your child want to read, as long as you remember to
read it calmly and peacefully.
If your child is old enough to choose her own book, you might find that she wants the same one read over and over. And as boring as that might seem when you’re sitting there reading it again and again, that’s a good sign. If it’s boring to you, then I would say you’re doing a good job, because your child must have asked you to read it a dozen times, and that repetition is helping her learn and develop.
Even newborns can benefit from this routine, and being read to. People think, ‘I’m not reading to a little baby, she doesn’t understand’. But even the smallest baby can hear and listen to you. She may not understand the content of what you’re reading, but she sees your facial expressions, and hears your tone, and that allows her to know that what’s being done is a good thing.
I hear some mums say, ‘I feel a little bit embarrassed about reading to my child.’ But you don’t have to be great at reading aloud, just get stuck in and start reading the story and you’ll be fine. You’ll soon get into it, and when your child smiles and giggles, you’ll really start to enjoy reading to her. And if you have a toddler, when she looks over your shoulder to follow the words and pictures in the book, you can’t overstate how good it feels. Just thinking about that makes me smile. When your child is really excited about what you’re reading, when her face is so focused and she’s concentrating on the story, that really is a magic moment.
If you read to a toddler and she doesn’t seem focused, don’t jump to the conclusion that she’s not interested in the book. Children need to be engaged, so you need to work to help her concentrate on the story. It’s all about interaction. So, if you’re reading a book and her attention seems to be drifting, get her to focus by asking questions about the story: ‘Hey, where’s the bunny gone?’ ‘Where did the bunny rabbit go?’ Grab her attention, so she takes a look at the book and spots the bunny. That’s how you re-engage a little one to follow the story you’re reading. But don’t worry if you can’t get her to focus straight away. If you’re interested in the book, she will eventually focus on the story too.
Step Three – Bedtime
Once your child is lovely and relaxed after you’ve read her book to her, it’s time to tuck her up safe and sound in bed. At this point, I like to talk about the lovely things we did that day, and the exciting things we will be doing the following day, everything we’ve got to look forward to.
If you have an older child, it’s a good idea to give her an opportunity to ask you questions as well, so that she’s mentally at ease, and you’ve given her a chance to completely slow down, as well as being physically tired. That way she is more likely to be fully relaxed, so she can settle down for a good night’s sleep. Then you will help her settle in whatever way suits her best, and she will
be so calm and relaxed that sleep will come easily. Keep the routine up for 14 days, and I think you will be amazed by the changes.
I know, it’s one thing to read about this routine, and another thing altogether to give it a go. You might be thinking, ‘I’m not sure, it’s probably easier to just keep doing what we’re doing already.’ But I think your child will really benefit from this routine – and so will you.