Editors Note: As Stephanie Waldron points out in this article, it’s important for people (and yes, people includes children), to find their own natural sleep rhythym. As parents we can help our kids with that, instead of forcing a schedule on them. Instead of thinking about how to get kids to sleep, find ways to guide them towards listening to their bodies.
Ever since our kids were born they have made their own sleep times. As babies I never tried to force them on to a infant sleep schedule. They ate when they were hungry and slept when they were tired. It’s very important to follow the natural rhythms that babies are born with. I believe it causes harm to make them sleep or wake up because of the time on the clock or for a parent’s convenience.
I couldn’t bear to put my baby in a crib in another room so we slept with all of our babies. When they were ready, usually when the next baby came, they would move into their own bed. With our first son we put a toddler bed in our room so when his brother was born we were all still in the same room.
As they grew and moved into their own beds and rooms we didn’t have set bedtimes. We had a loose routine to try and wind down and get ready for sleep. We didn’t make them go to their bed and stay there. They sometimes fell asleep on the couch and we would move them to their bed. When our third child was born she was running around until midnight most nights as a toddler. Over the years the kids started staying up later and later. Their times of sleeping and waking have varied over the years.
Some people think if you don’t make them go to bed and wake up they will never be able to get up or hold down a job. I believe this is false, it is based on fear. All of my kids have demonstrated the ability to get up early for something.
I on the other hand have had a hard time sleeping my whole life and do not do mornings. All of those years that I was in school, I was just exhausted and suffered from migraines. I was forced to get up even though I had just fallen to sleep. I believe it is pure torture to put a child away at a certain time and make them stay there. Why do we have to live on an 8-5 work/school/day, bed by 9pm, up at 6am? I believe that only a small percentage of the population actually thrives on that schedule.
When kids are small we can watch for cues, we can help them calm down. The truth is the child knows better than us that they are tired. Sometimes they get overtired and can’t sleep but I do believe that when they aren’t stifled by an imposed schedule that they can and do listen to their own body.
For example, my 11 year old daughter just went through a cycle where she was backwards, so to speak. She was up all night and sleeping all day, she got turned around and it took a few weeks for her to turn back around. During that time she grew a few inches. She listened to her body; she slept when she was tired, it just happened to be the opposite of the rest of us.
As unschoolers we have the freedom to listen to our bodies and sleep when we are tired. We aren’t forced to get up and go to an artificial environment all day.
“I can’t help noting that no cultures in the world that I have ever heard of make such a fuss about children’s bedtimes, and no cultures have so many adults who find it so hard either to go to sleep or wake up. Could these social facts be connected? I strongly suspect they are.” ~ John Holt© 2011 An Unschooling Life