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
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
- 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