Improving sleep for children living between two homes and separated parents

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Some times relationships just don’t work out. Thousands of children are affected by divorce and separation each year.
It can be very difficult to maintain consistent bed times and bedtime routines for children when they divide their time between 2 homes after a separation or divorce.​

Here are a few tips to try and make it easier for everybody

  • Keep a consistent bedtime routine in both homes:
    It’s very challenging to deal with sleep problems when a child is required to make frequent changes; spending a few nights per week at one parent’s home and then the rest of the week at the other parent’s place.
    Sleep disorders like bedtime refusals and nighttime waking are common among children who feel torn between 2 parents and 2 homes and 2 different routines.
    Babies are especially sensitive to changes in their routines and the confusion can affect their sleep in a dramatic way.
    Problems may develop due to two conflicting and opposing parenting styles. As an extreme example, you might have a regimented perfectionist parent with rules for every event at home. Opposite to that, there might be a former partner who allows the children complete freedom to snack on whatever they want and just fall asleep in front of the television whenever they drop off to sleep. Imagine the emotional and social skills a young child would need to deal with these massive changes. Many children are expected to do just this every few days.
  • Rituals are valuable and give all family members a sense of belonging and can help comfort children in the unfamiliar circumstances of frequent change.
  • Keep duplicates of favorite bedtime books or music and pajamas at both homes to keep things consistent and familiar for your child making them feel more secure.
  • Reading the same favorite bedtime story at both houses gives the child the familiarity and security to wind down and makes it easier for them to go to sleep.
  • Try and meet each other halfway to agree on a reasonable bedtime routine and bedtimes that both parent groups will stick to in the interest of their child.
  • Talk about an acceptable screen time policy for your toddler and stick to it at both homes.
  • A shared online calendar or app can be a great way to stay organised with and keep your former partner up to date regarding your child’s activities and what’s coming up.
  • When your child moves between homes, he might feel unsettled and grumpy when he first arrives. Deal with this unsettled period by having a homecoming ritual. It could be a bath with your child’s favorite music playing, eating a snack together, going into the garden and looking at new flowers that opened up, or saying hello to the family pets. This can help ease the transition and make them feel settled by the time it is bedtime.
  • If possible, avoid making the transition between his/ her two homes when your child is tired or hungry.

It is very important to try and work together as a team to ensure your child gets the best quality sleep and the recommended amount of sleep time for their age.  When parents work together it makes the transition easier for the child. Consistency and routine are the keys to success! It does require exceptional teamwork; maybe even more than when you used to live together under one roof. The effort will be rewarded though with a happier and more rested child and parents.
“SLEEP: What Every Parent Needs to Know” (American Academy of Pediatrics, September 2013), Dr. Rachel Y. Moon