Going through a divorce or separation can leave many feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and hurt. When you add kids into the mix, everything just gets a little more complicated. And as stressful as this can be on you, it can be equally as stressful for your child.
Big transitions like this can cause a young child to regress in their sleep. We have to be reminded that these precious little ones are feeling the stress and changes in the home, and this impact can make drastic lifelong setbacks in many different ways…including their sleep.
Separated parents need to get on the same page and work together to create positive solutions and restful nights as consistently as possible. Sleep is crucial for your child’s growth and development. Research on child’s sleep suggests that it promotes growth and maintains a healthy immune system. Disturbances that don’t allow a child to sleep peacefully through the night can lead to fatigue, irritable behavior, hyperactivity, and many more factors. So, while the family dynamic might have changed, your child’s sleep doesn’t have to!
Here are 5 simple ways to help your child get the sleep they need while maintaining a “new normal.”
Talk it out with your co-parent.
I know this first step can often be the hardest, but regardless of the feelings you have toward your child’s parent, you have to work together for your little one. Learn how to communicate with your ex about your child, their well-being, and the details of their sleep. Talk to your co-parent about your child’s sleep habits in each home. Reach an agreement on bedtime routines and sleeping arrangements, using the same approach so it’s easier for your child to stay consistent.
Communicate with your child.
Now that you have a plan with your co-parent, it’s time to talk to your child about this new plan (together, if possible)! Your recent separation or divorce may be causing your child to feel an excess of emotions. Even so, everyday life could be creating uneasiness for them (new sitters, a new school, normal developmental leaps, etc). Talking to your child, even while they’re young, about all of the things that are going on in their life can often reassure their little hearts that everything will be okay. Let them speak openly to you about what they’re feeling and never talk bad about their parent. It doesn’t help the situation in the least and only causes a divide in your child’s communication to you. Letting them know that both you and their other parent love them no matter what. Tell them that while there are a lot of changes happening right now, you will all be there for each other.
Create a Similar Environment.
Making your child’s room environment conducive for sleep is just as important in two separate homes as it was while you were all under one roof. Make sure both rooms are as alike as possible.
If your child is sleeping in a twin size bed in one parent’s home, make sure they are sleeping in the same size bed in the other parent’s home. If your child sleeps in a crib, don’t suddenly have a big boy or big girl bed in the other home. Keeping the room as much the same as you can make it creates consistency for how your child sleeps in the night.
The same safe sleep environment should apply in both homes:
- Use room-darkening shades, heavy curtains, and/or mini-blinds to block out the sunlight from windows. Make the room completely dark, allowing for a cozy night of sleep without any distractions!
- White noise. The steady hum of background noise, from a fan or a crib soother, helps cover up errant household/neighborhood noises. It also serves as an audio cue, just for the nursery, of when it’s time to go to sleep.
- A comfortable crib or bed. The place where your child sleeps should be comfortable. This is more of a safety and convenience tip, but the crib should be clean and clear of loose items before the baby goes in.
- A good video monitor. It’s really important to have a monitor that doesn’t produce much of a light that can easily stimulate your baby. A sound monitor works just as well, if you’re comfortable with it.
- Child proofing close to the crib or in their room. As your little one grows, they will be able to lift themselves up in the crib. Once this milestone happens, be sure to clear anything 5 feet away from the crib. Your baby will be able to reach for things and bring them into the crib. Always prepare by childproofing before milestones like this are reached. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Create a new bedtime routine for both homes.
It goes without saying, but you and your co-parent need to work together on creating a solid new sleep routine for your child. If both parents are doing the same routine, it makes a world of a difference in your child’s sleep.
Start off with a set time you want your child to be in bed with lights off and work your way from there. If bedtime is at 7pm, start dinner at 5:30pm, bath by 6:15pm, pjs, books and lullabies by 6:45pm and lights off by 7pm. This routine should happen in both homes!
If you and your co-parent are already living in separate homes, your child might miss saying goodnight to both parents. Try coordinating a quick bedtime phone call or video chat with your co-parent, if possible. No matter what your bedtime routine looks like, the environment in both homes should be calm, cozy and stress-free.
Strive for consistency.
Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately, and sensitively to their needs. New research suggests that the consistency of kids’ bedtimes matters just as much for their developing brains as the number of hours they get. Consistency builds confidence! And if both parents get on the same page and handle their child’s sleep the same way, you are building a healthy, emotionally stable child for years to come.
It won’t always be easy, and you and your co-parent will have disagreements…but focus on what you can control and maintain the routine you both created as best you can. Even if you don’t agree on every matter concerning your child’s sleeping habits, share what you’ve observed with your co-parent. Try keeping a journal about your child’s sleep schedule, noting things like how long it took them to fall asleep and what the bedtime routine was like. Share these notes with your co-parent so that they have an idea of how your child has been doing on the nights that they are with you. This is the perfect scenario to hire a sleep consultant to help be the middle person as you create accountability and consistency in both homes! This could help your co-parent to maintain the bedtime routine on the nights that your child transitions over to their home.