“Our three-year-old fights going to bed. It’s always a battle getting him to sleep before 10:00 p.m., and by that time I’m more tired than he is.”
Parents usually need their children to go to sleep earlier than the children need to. Sleep is not a state you can force a child into. It is better to create an environment that allows sleep to overtake the child.
- Be sure your child is tired. You may have to omit or shorten the afternoon nap or take it earlier.
- Replace before-bed activities that rev-up a child (e.g., scary or stimulating TV, wrestling, sugary snacks) with wind-down interactions (for example, a warm bath, stories, quiet games, or a nutritious snack).
- Reasonably consistent bedtimes are healthful for children of all ages, and a sanity saver for tired parents. The child over three can understand the concept of bedtime. Children under five usually can’t understand actual time, but can relate time to events: “When the video is over,” “After you’ve had your bath and a snack.” Try setting the stove timer to announce bedtime. If you don’t take charge of your children’s bedtimes, they will often drag it out until midnight.
- Bedtime routines are essential in getting children to sleep at an established hour. It should be fairly simple, for example, a snack, brush teeth and put on pajamas, a story, a prayer, and lights out. Do this every night and sleep will inevitably follow. This requires a commitment from you, but it’s well worth it to know that in twenty or thirty minutes, start to finish, your child will be asleep.
- Remember, children want to have fun. If it’s more fun to stay up, they’ll fight sleep. They don’t want to miss anything. Try making bedtime special and fun — in a quiet way.
- Reserve favorite stories just for bedtime with the condition that you will tell the story only if your child is in bed at the appointed time. Alternate homemade stories with those in books. The most sleep-inducing stories are those that involve counting or repetition and lull the child to sleep.
- Take your child’s favorite story characters and spin a long tale: Batman and Robin went fishing, and they caught one blue fish, two red fish and three green fish. Of course, don’t just count — embellish each “catch” with the sequence of getting in the boat, getting out the bait or lures, baiting the hook, casting the line, etc. Batman and Robin will be lucky if they catch more than a half- dozen fish before the child is asleep.
- A bedtime ritual conditions children to form a mental picture that sleep is soon to follow. The ritual helps them relax and get used to the idea. Before you begin the story, tell the child that he has to lie still for you to start the story. (Be sure the child is tired already.) Special bedtime rituals come with strings attached. “No backs rubbed after 9:00 o’clock.” Use whatever enticement your child likes. Nighttime obedience has its rewards.
Martha notes: “We realized that one way to deal with our little night owl, Lauren, is to respect her state of unreadiness for sleep. While we try for consistent nighttime routines, sometimes Lauren just isn’t tired at her usual bedtime. She’s ready enough to get into bed for stories, but after four or five, I can sense that sleep is the farthest thing from her mind. She’d be happy to lie there for an hour and listen to stories, then have the light out, hear lullabies, and flop around. (I fall asleep first on those nights.) If I don’t wish to spend my time that way, we get out of bed and I give her the message that she’s welcome to play quietly if she stays out of trouble.”