There is an old (yet persistent) parenting philosophy that goes by this thinking: You can tire out a child as much as you want (and as much as they can), because at the end of the day they’ll just be sooooo tired they’ll collapse and fall asleep.
Quite honestly, I don’t understand how people still believe this.
I’ve stated my objections to this out loud a couple of times too. I’ve read it in books, and I’ve been told by “modern parents” as well as by experienced doulas (who’ve dealt with hundreds of babies) that it is harder for a child to fall asleep when they are overtired. Translate: It’s the period when they miss their window of rest and overextend themselves. If their bodies don’t listen to the natural circadian rhythm of awake and sleep cycles, it will overcompensate and go into overdrive. At that point, it’s harder for them to unwind. They’d be running on adrenaline and then the tantrums and unreasonable tears and all of it just comes pouring out. It’s also harder for them to stay asleep or sleep restfully through the night, particularly if they are at an age when they need to nap in between the day and they miss it.
I’ve also tried citing examples to get my point across. As an adult, when you’re too tired, isn’t it harder for you to fall asleep at night? Even if your body wants to physically collapse, you end up tossing and turning restlessly before finally caving in. In the morning, you wake up feeling as if you haven’t fully recovered. It takes a while before you’re able to get back into the regular rhythm of things. I know because it’s happened to me many times. I’ve seen it happen with my girls too — many, many times.
On the days that Jamie’s nap time runs late, it’s harder for her to fall asleep and crying ensues. She usually wakes up at the same time everyday, so it means her rest period is shorter. At night, she is also more restless and has a harder time falling back asleep. Her tiredness also manifests itself the day after through her tantrums. I know that they happen more often with her than they ever did with Sam, because Jamie’s also had to adjust to her sister’s schedule instead of having to work through her own rhythm, while Sam had the luxury of dictating her own schedule and pace at no compromise.
With Sam, I’ve noticed that she grinds her teeth a lot more subconsciously, or wakes up in the middle of the night more often when she’s overtired. Case in point: Yesterday afternoon she attended a birthday party at an indoor kids playhouse. She was on full adrenaline mode for a good two and a half hours. We take her there to play every now and then too, and I’ve noted the sleep patterns on those days (in the same way we used to go to the bounce houses back in North Carolina) are similar to what we experienced last night. She tossed and turned a good while, and then eventually fell asleep; but a few hours later, she’d be up again. Sometimes, she’s half asleep but she is so restless that she cries, fidgets and makes exasperated noises as she tries to settle herself back down. It affects her disposition all of the next day. However, on the days when we regulate her stimuli and keep her activities and her sugar intake to a moderate level, then she’s able to fall asleep much faster and stay asleep better.
So from multiple firsthand experiences, I know that it’s important that a child is tired enough, but not too tired. It’s why I try to keep their routines, nap time and bedtime hours at similar schedules daily. It’s why I try to limit a lot of the hyperactivity and stimulation when the sun sets (sometimes after dinner, is the time the yayas choose to play tag or hide-and-seek. That’s so wrong, and I’ve had to scold them for it! The girls are jumping, running and shrieking at an hour when they should be winding down). It’s why I set a time limit for their sugar intake: no sweets after 6pm. Cake, chocolates, candies and cookies don’t help them get to bed on time. It’s why we skip out of social gatherings early (or entirely), and why I hesitate to overstimulate them and fill their day with too many activities. As it stands by my standards it’s already packed. Getting through a regular 12-hour day is a lot; and naturally by the time the sun sets, they’re already fatigued.
I say all of this because if I continue to be honest, in principle it’s simple enough, but here in Manila it’s very hard to do. Many dismiss or belittle my concerns, despite the explanations I’ve given (why I even need to explain how I parent my kids is really beyond me). Some give me a hard time about it. I’ve heard it all: I’m inflexible, I’m too strict or I don’t think about how others may feel. I should reconsider because other people who have kids that are the same age as my own are able to do it. And anyway, this only happens “once in a while”. The thing is, everyone gives the “once in a while” excuse all the time, it becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s easy for people to say, but when all goes to hell, I’m the one (and no one else mind you!) who has to deal with the stubbornness, the tears, the unreasonable whining and everything else in between. Then I too become the overtired mom; as if raising two kids isn’t exhausting enough right?
Ironically enough, we all know how important sleep is for kids. It’s when their growth hormones are released. Sleep gives them much-needed rest and allows them to recover from a long day. Enough sleep prevents them from getting sick and it keeps their immune system up. Some books say sleep is even more important than eating.
Some of my contemporaries are going through similar situations and I know they can relate to this. What else can we say? There will be a time, place and age when we can be a little bit more flexible about pushing our kids’ “tired limit” to accommodate more socially acceptable behavior. Now just isn’t it.
In the meantime we do everything we can to keep the kids from getting too tired, and get them to sleep and rest as much as they can. Hopefully, we moms can get some much-needed rest too.