Whenever a group of parents get together, one of the most talked about subjects are their children’s sleep habits, or lack of them. Someone’s child won’t take naps any more, another child screams at bedtime for what feels like hours, while yet another complains that every morning the kids are all in bed with her. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could put your child to bed, have her stay there, and sleep all through the night?
Bedtime Battles Often Caused by Lack of Sleep
Strangely enough, most sleep problems are caused because children are not getting enough sleep to begin with. They are over-wired, over-stimulated, and as a result, overly cranky. Infants need about 16 hours of sleep a day, toddlers and preschoolers 11 – 13 hours of sleep, and school aged children need 9 to 10 hours of sleep. Even teenagers still need 9 to 9.5 hours.
First you should examine your current schedule. Families with older children may not be able to put their preschoolers to bed by eight pm, as they have 4H meetings, soccer practice, scouting outings, or other activities. In that case, it may be necessary to allow the preschool child to sleep later in the morning, or take longer naps. Just make sure to schedule sleep into your child’s day, every day. (Most moms and dads could do with a little more sleep, as well.)
Establish a Solid Bedtime Routine
Next, develop a bedtime routine. Young children do not understand the concept of time. They won’t look at a clock and see that it is time for bed, therefore, they should start getting ready! They do understand routines, though. In fact, they do better when they have a regular daily schedule. Routines help them make order of their world. When there are no routines, there are sure to be temper tantrums.
What you do as part of your bedtime routine isn’t as important as having a routine. This routine may start from the end of dinner. Perhaps your child will help you clear the table and load the dishwasher. Then you may wish to give him a bath. Bath time has traditionally been part of the bedtime routine, but now some pediatricians do not encourage it. They feel that little children just do not get that dirty, and a daily bath will dry out their skin. I feel that if your little child is not getting that dirty, then he is not allowed enough time outside! Kids should get dirty, and they should have a bath. If you are concerned about dry skin, you can add a few drops of bath oil to the water or use a moisturizing lotion.
Bathtub Play is Educational
Water play is a necessary part of your child’s education. All the best day care centers will have a water play table, with measuring cups and spoons, straws, things that float and things that don’t, boats and other toys, with little water-proof aprons for the children to wear. How much easier it is for you to simply let your child play in the tub! You’re getting him clean, helping him to get ready for bed, and letting him learn all at the same time! That said, you can and should teach your child not to throw water on the floor of the bathroom.
Make Snuggle Time Part of Your Routine
Following the bath, you can cuddle dry your child, and help him or her into pajamas. (Older preschoolers may be more independent.) Then you could spend some time in the rocking chair or on the couch reading a couple of books. Sing a lullaby. Say prayers if this is part of your faith. Hug and kiss other family members good-night. Whatever activities you pick to include in your bedtime routine, just make sure to always do them. List them and memorize them. Make sure your spouse and babysitter knows them. Then as the last step, put your child to bed and close the door.
If your child cries, let him go ahead and cry. This is bedtime, not time to get another drink of water, or play another game, or read another book. It may take a while for your child to internalize the bedtime ritual, generally no more than three weeks, and sometimes as little as one day.
Once the bedtime routine is in place, you and your young child will be much happier. Sleep is such a necessary ingredient in our lives, and often undervalued. One recent study suggests a strong correlation between new mothers whose infants do not sleep through the night and post-partum depression. I’m not surprised. I was, in fact, more surprised that someone felt they needed to study that! I figured that should have been a foregone conclusion.