As parents, we know how important sleep is to our children’s well-being. When their sleep schedule gets disrupted or never well-established, the consequences creep into every corner of our homes and those of our families and friends who unwittingly welcomed us and our brood for an overnight stay. In addition to the kiddos’ crabbiness, inattentiveness, tantrums, and lowered immune systems, there are real impacts on how we, as parents, respond to the unfavorable side effects of a sleep-deprived child.
How do we start a sleep routine or get back on track when we’re exhausted, running a busy household, and don’t have the energy or patience it takes?! You call in an expert; that’s what you do.
We asked Karen Winter of Winter Slumber for some tips. She’s a mom, educator, and certified sleep consultant specializing in children ages 2-7.
You’ve worked with children your whole career and have a degree in Early Childhood Education. Were you the favorite neighborhood babysitter growing up?
I grew up in Beloit, WI, and remember being asked to babysit an infant by a friend of the family when I was 9 years old. Which seems so crazy to me now; that’s so young! My mom went with me on that one and basically sat and read a book while I took care of the baby 🙂 That kickstarted my babysitting career! Friends, family, and church members would frequently ask me to babysit. I LOVED it, and they fully trusted me! I remember skipping church services quite frequently to sneak into the nursery and help out, which the adults always welcomed because I was so good with the little ones.
I knew from my very earliest memories that I wanted to be a “babysitter” when I grew up. My mom had her own in-home daycare, and I thought that was amazing, that was my goal. Which I later achieved. As I grew older, that desire turned into wanting to teach. It has always been my passion and desire to work with kids!
Tell us about your professional background and how your journey made you become a sleep consultant. Were you a sleep consultant before you had your own children?
I wasn’t a sleep consultant prior to having my daughter, in fact, she is a big reason I became a sleep consultant. It’s an interesting story of me really struggling with sleep myself and later utilizing that struggle as a WHY behind my career change! I’ll try to keep the story short:
I worked in so many different settings with children and had many roles, a few being: daycare worker, substitute teacher, autism line therapist, 4K Teacher, and in-home daycare provider. When I got pregnant, it was because of these experiences, I was super confident in my abilities as a mom. But little did I know my daughter was going to throw me for a loop, and “momming” is NOT EASY. One of our biggest challenges was she did not sleep. I was the sleep-deprived mama trying to just make it through. I somehow managed to survive, and by about age 2, she finally had slept through the night. At that point in time, I had no idea what a sleep consultant was, I wish I had! I still don’t know how I functioned.
Fast forward a few years, and I was at a point in my career as an in-home daycare provider when I knew I wanted to make a career shift. I saw this as an opportunity for me to continue to work with families and put my skills and experience to use while furthering my education as a way to help parents avoid what I went through as an exhausted mama. That truly became my “WHY”. I have now become sleep-obsessed, love reading all the books, and articles, and learned so much through the certification course I took. My own struggle allows me to connect with my clients in a way that is special.
I remember being in their shoes, and I’m now helping them make the needed changes I took so long to make. They don’t have to struggle through as I did! I LOVE helping families reach their sleep goals, seeing the transformation take place in both the child and the parents is the best! I truly believe my journey took me to exactly where I need to be, and I’m excited for the continued growth of Winter Slumber.
What are the most common complaints from new clients about their children’s sleep schedules?
I work mostly with families of 2-7-year-olds, the toddler and preschool age is my specialty, and there are lots of challenges at this age! Most being: having to lay with their child until they fall asleep, their child waking multiple times overnight and joining them in their bed, nap strikes, and struggling with the transition from crib to bed. I typically work with families who are ready to make a change and aren’t sure exactly HOW to get there. By the end of our time together my clients have an enjoyable, less stressful bedtime, their little one is able to sleep through the night, their naps have improved (if still needed), and their daytime behaviors have been positively impacted by more sleep!
Bedtime resistance can be the final straw that breaks a mama’s (or papa’s) back after a long day. What do you recommend when you’re about to lose it and not just want, but NEED, them to go.to.sleep.?
I hear you on this! We are all tired by the end of the day and are running on very little patience. I always tell parents it’s ok to walk away, find your calm, and then return more level-headed. In fact, it’s great to model this to your little one! I also recommend taking a step back and really focusing on the lead-up to bedtime. We sometimes forget that bodies need to be “prepared” for sleep. It’s easy to forget when we are just trying to make it through our often busy evenings. Parents usually have a bedtime routine in place, which is great, but ensuring your child has also had time to burn some energy in the early evening is crucial. Then moving into some quiet play before the bedtime routine even starts will aid in best preparing those little bodies to work their way into a calm state and be ready to move through the bedtime routine without much fuss. Oh yeah, and no screens one hour before they go to bed. That darn blue light messes with our ability to become tired. I support my clients by using my “Prepare, Connect, Plan, and Expect” framework which includes all of the above and more to reach those sleep goals and avoid bedtime resistance altogether!
You’ve developed scripts to help parents navigate bedtime minefields. Can you share some of them with us?
I have! We are all so tired by the end of the day and getting into a battle of wills is not helpful for anyone. As a parent, I have found it helpful to have exact phrases to use when you’re feeling triggered and about to lose your cool. Many of my given scripts are about giving choices within your boundary.
An example of this is, “It’s time to go to your room, would you like to crawl like a bear, or get carried upside down?” Validating your child’s emotions and moving forward is another big one, this could look like “I know it’s hard to stop playing and you wish you could continue doing what you are doing. I get it! How about we leave this here for the morning and I’ll race you to your room. Ready? One, two, ….” And off you go. When they aren’t cooperating it can be a phrase, “I see you are having a hard time right now choosing your pajamas, I will pick them for you tonight and you can try again tomorrow”. In my Guide to Bedtime Battles, I have far more, and actually, these exact ones aren’t even in that guide, but similar ones are. It’s all about having a baseline and then adjusting your exact words based on the situation.