By Jamell Andrews
For parents, getting kids to go to bed at certain times is one of those ongoing struggles that over the years can reach epic proportions. Kids have a powerful, seemingly inborn desire to guide their own sleeping patterns, and for parents there is just no easy way to subvert this force. Granted, some kids are more obedient than others and are perfectly content to head to bed when asked, but these are the exceptions. For most parents, it becomes an issue early in the child’s life, and you continuously have to work with your child to make the household sleep situation consistently positive.
Young children respond well to clear, easily understandable rules that are consistent over time. As soon as your child is old enough to understand time and the importance of a good night’s sleep, impose a bedtime that is more or less in line with the child’s preexisting habits. For particularly young children who sleep longer hours than older kids, many parents start out with a bedtime of 7 PM. 8 PM works well for slightly older children, and for preteens and teens the time can be adjusted later. Whatever specific time you decide on, make sure it is consistent.
Of course, there will always be days where the normal bedtime rules cannot apply, but make sure there are good reasons for these exceptions. If your child finds she can get out of bedtime simply by begging and pleading strongly enough, this will set a bad precedent. So save exceptions for when you are traveling, when relatives are visiting, or holidays and other special events.
Calming and removing distractions
When a child is wound up and active, it is difficult to deflate the excitement and get into sleeping mode. That is why there should always be a buffer between active time and sleep time. For the last hour or two before your child’s bedtime, engage the child in calming activities such as reading and schoolwork. Make sure all food and drink is consumed long before bedtime, and try to keep the child away from stimulating electronic gadgets before bed.
Once the child is in bed, it is important to make sure there is nothing going on in the home that will cause him or her to want to get up and join in. When multiple children are close together in age, try to make their bedtimes roughly the same so that the younger one will not be tortured by the older one still being up and doing things. Meanwhile, make sure the home is quiet so that it does not sound like exciting things are going on.
As grownups, it is easy to forget about all the things that can interfere with a child’s sleep. For example, some kids are afraid of the dark and do not like to sleep without a nightlight. Some are very attached to their parents and like to feel assured that both parents are nearby and easily accessible. And then there is the fact that rapidly growing kids often experience aches and pains as a natural result of growth. So if your child regularly gets up in the night to tell you he or she is scared or does not feel well, you are certainly not alone in this.
The best thing you can do is listen to your child’s concerns about bedtime and sleep, and take them seriously. If your child is scared of the dark, do not try to convince her that such fears are irrational. She will eventually grow out of them, but for now the fears are real, so provide her with a nightlight. In the end, making your child comfortable in sleep will benefit the whole household. Your children will sleep better, and the parents will get more peace.