Kids and Sleep

20160724_160613000_iosOur sweet friend, Leia, who we made a makeshift bed for during our gathering one Sunday.

When I first had Liam, my mentor gave me the best advice on practical parenting I’d had before or since–make sleep the biggest priority for your kids.

Thank you, thank you, oh Yoda. Your words have served our family well.
(Her name isn’t actually Yoda…)

Her philosophy was that most behavior problems in children come from a lack of sleep. I’m far too lazy to look up any research to back her up, but trust me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was right. OK, OK, theologically their behavior problems come from sinful heart issues. But we’re body and soul together, where our flesh affects our hearts and our hearts affect our flesh. It goes both ways.

For instance, there are many times my physical body is broken down, maybe from hunger or fatigue, and sometimes the gift God gives you to fight temptations that invariably increase during those times is to simply eat something or take a nap. Same for our little ones, even though they can’t quite evaluate this for themselves. Sleep is an important tool to help our kids, even the littles, fight the temptations that come from living in our sinful flesh.

Now, before I tell you how the Bells have handled sleep so far, remember that kids aren’t robots. None of our children fit into a perfect box here. I know you’ll hate this, but you just have to use the instincts God gave you according to each child’s needs.

Also, as I’m preparing to write this, I’m thinking, “Oh crap! I don’t actually remember what we did with babies!” I’ve done the baby and sleep thing six times, and my youngest is only four, but yeah–you really do forget. This should let you know how helpful this article will be. Please excuse me while I refresh my memory a bit…

And I’m back! I’m sure you noticed my absence.

(The recommended hours of sleep are in parentheses beside each age, according to WebMD)

Newborns-4 Weeks (15-16 hours): During these first weeks, we do a mix of feeling out baby’s rhythms and helping them adjust to ours. We typically do a feed-keep awake for a short time to play-sleep routine. If baby wakes up before three hours, I feed them and start the cycle over again. If they try to sleep longer at this age, I wake them up at the three-hour mark from start of the previous feeding. We do the same through the night, too. Our experience has been that baby stretches closer to the three-hour mark if we really try for the play time right after the feeding. I have no idea why (WebMD should totally hire me to write for them with all my research), but baby just seems to sleep better when they’ve played a bit before naptime.

1-4 Months (14-15 hours): There’s a slow transition that begins here to let baby begin sleeping through the night. We gradually allow baby to have longer stretches during the night until their body adjusts to full nighttime sleeping. For our six kids whom we raised from birth, 10-12 hour stretches happened between weeks 9 and 11. That’s not right or better or anything–it’s just what our kids did. If your kids don’t, they’re still awesome and so are you. We still wake them up in the daytime if need be, we just switch to more of a four-hour instead of three-hour cycle.

4-9 Months (14-15 hours): At this point, our kids were on a schedule of three naps during the day, usually sleeping between 1-2 hours at a time and 10-12 hours at night. We still kept the same eat-play-sleep cycle with them. Dropping the third nap is different for each child. Two of my kids have always LOVED their sleep. Honestly, my ten-year-old could still nap every day if I wanted her to. They tended to hold on to that third nap longer than the others. If over time they simply don’t sleep, stop acting tired before the evening nap, or stop sleeping well through the night, it’s often an indication they need fewer naps. Dropping the evening nap can also means a bit of an earlier bed time for a transition period.

6-12 Months (14-15 hours): Our children still take two naps during this phase, and often we let this phase go longer than the 12 month recommendation, sometimes as late as 18 months. Again, it depends on the child’s needs. Twelve-hour nights of sleep are usually the sweet spot for Bell kids at this point.

1-3 Years (12-14 hours): Like I said, we often keep two naps past the one year mark, but most kids can switch to one nap a day not long after their first birthday.Our kids still sleep around twelve continuous hours during the night.

3-6 Years (10-12 hours): This is the point we usually start to look a bit different from other families. It seems like most families are anxious for their children to drop their afternoon nap so they can have more freedom to run errands, explore, whatever in the day. We typically don’t drop it until they’ve made it through this phase. Threenagers’ little bodies are changing so much, and it’s rough to make it 12 hours with no rest. Now, a couple of my kids did stop napping consistently when they were three, but I haven’t had one who was ready to drop completely at this age. This is where “rest time” becomes more the norm. They would read books in bed for an hour or two. A few days a week, they fall asleep, and a few days a week they don’t. Currently, one of my four-year-olds could take a four-hour nap each day if we’d let him (we don’t!), our other four-year-old sleeps 5-6 days a week, and our five-year-old sleeps 2-4 days a week.

7-12 Years (10-11 hours): We gradually let our children stay up a bit longer during this phase, pushing bedtime back by 30 minutes as the child grows. Our 11-year-old goes to bed around 9 and wakes up on his own between 7 and 7:30. He did recently get a late Friday night bedtime of 10:00, and he’ll usually sleep a bit later on Saturdays. This basically means he stays up later than me most Fridays. Dang, I’m a party animal…

12-18 Years (8-9 hours): No words here. I haven’t raised a cub in this age range yet. I just thought it was fun to include it like I have a clue what I’m doing.

One last thought here. I don’t believe in a child-centered home. Nor do I believe in a parent-centered home. I believe in a Jesus-centered home, which entails giving up your own desires as your Big Brother did. I mentioned this briefly above, but the biggest reason it seems parents push their kids out of the sleep they need (I do it, too!) is because we’re just weary of revolving our schedules around our kids. We’re ready for an easier season where we can add in activities we’ve missed or look forward to. Or we want more freedom to do things on our time for our convenience. Sometimes, the right thing is to blow off a nap or drop naps for necessity. But I think more often we need to remember that rest is a precious gift from God. It’s good for our kids, and it’s good for us. Sit and be still, knowing this season is from him and for him. Use their rest time to be content in this season. And if you do this well, let me know in the comments. I would love to learn from you.

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Managing Several Small Children–Working With Kids On Different Levels

I often say all our children come in size small. That’s certainly true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ginormous difference between a 2nd grader and 17 month old, so what do I do when I’m trying to teach math to one while trying to train another to sit still? Basically, I cry a lot. Then I pull out a few more tricks I’ve learned for this very situation.

Bill will be addressing some ways we handle different ages when all our kids are together doing the same thing (listening to a book, talking at dinner, playing a game, etc.). This post is addressing what I typically do when my kids are working on different things at the same time, mainly in relation to keeping the little ones occupied.

  • You can pull anything from my post on occupying children when your hands are tied.
  • Use a timer. All day. My tots and preschoolers are more likely to keep at a project if they know the timer will go off in 10-15 minutes and they get to change to something else.
  • Do as much as you can with the olders when the littles are napping. For instance, though this breaks all homeschooling rules that say to give your kids harder subjects first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, we don’t start school with the older ones for the most part until the littles are down for naps. I’ve found with my kids that if they’re going to struggle in math, it doesn’t matter if it’s 8:00am or 3:00pm. They’ll struggle just as much, and this schedule just seems to work best for our family.
  • I have lots of different “times” planned for my littles throughout the day. These help them learn to stay still and keep them moving around from thing to thing. Here are my names for them with short descriptions:
    • Table Time–They sit at a table and do something artsy. This can be as simple as playing with play dough to a craft you get ready beforehand. You can also choose to have the preschoolers work on some educational worksheets. For toddlers, I start this by having them sit in something that keeps them confined, like a highchair.
    • Mat Time–Use a play mat, blanket, whatever. The point is to help them learn boundaries. They’re free to stand, walk, crawl, move all over that puppy, but not go off the blanket entirely. I’ll give them toys or activities special for this time, things they can’t use during free play. I’ve written a post to be published later that addresses how I train our toddlers to do this.
    • Room Time–If they’re small, I’ll put a gate in front in the doorway of their bedroom or playroom and let them play. Sometimes I give them toys to play with, sometimes I don’t. It’s like Almond Joys and Mounds. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my very small toddlers unsupervised in a room, so I’ll usually use their crib or a playpen for this.
    • Station Time–I’ll just set up different inviting stations around the room and let them roam freely. This might be blocks in a corner on the floor, a comfy chair with books in another corner, some stencils with colored pencils at a table, and some cars with paper towel rolls on a mat. They’re given a bit of freedom but still stay relatively quiet.
    • Technology Time–I know there are many mixed feelings about this one, but we personally don’t have a problem with putting on a short video for them to watch or letting them play a game on the tablet or computer.

For several ideas of what to do with the littles when working with the olders, check out the Resources tab at the top of the page or click here. We will be adding to it as we continue to find ideas. Feel free to browse them and give us suggestions of things we can add.