With kids, bedtime can be rough, and that’s putting it mildly. Bedtime should be a relaxing, peaceful end to the day where you help your kids drift off to dreamland so they can get the restorative slumber they need. Instead, many parents are convinced that the true “monsters” at bedtime are their kids, and not the ones who are supposedly hiding in the closet!
If you are struggling to get your kids to sleep – and to stay asleep – read on for some helpful advice on how to handle this sometimes stressful issue with patience and success. Soon, you’ll be able to actually get caught up on your Netflix queue once the kids are in bed, and your kids will wake up well-rested and cheerful.
Determine How Much Sleep Your Child Needs
While every child is different, and while every child will go through occasional periods where they need more or less sleep, there are general guidelines for how much sleep your child needs depending upon his/her age. Once you figure out the number of hours you should be aiming for, work backwards from the time they have to wake up so that you can pinpoint their ideal bedtime.
- Toddlers (1-3) typically need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, some of which may be taken up with naps.
- Preschoolers (3-5) may be phasing out naps, but still usually need a good 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night.
- Grade-schoolers (5-12) will function best with 10 to 11 hours of sleep.
- Teenagers (13 and up) still need quite a lot of sleep, and should try to get at least 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.
Create A Bedtime Schedule
Consistency and predictability is key for children of all ages, so you’ll want to be sure to create a clear time-table that your child knows you will stick to in the evening.
- Decide when homework will be completed, when your child will bathe, by what time they need to be in their pajamas, and when your bedtime routine (stories, songs, etc.) will start.
Work With Your Child To Create The Bedtime Schedule
Your child may adapt better and be more willing to go to bed if he/she feels that some degree of control over the evening activities.
- Sit down with your child to create the calendar together, and have fun creating a poster or chart which outlines the schedule. Then be sure to put the poster in a prominent place (ideally near a clock) where you can together consult it throughout the evening.
Be Willing To Adjust The Schedule As Your Child Grows
If your older child or teenager is having sleep issues, it may be because their internal clocks are shifting. He or she may want to stay up later, and may even be unable to fall asleep at an early time. Even so, if your teenager has to be up early for school, he/she will need their sleep to be able to function and learn.
- Check in regularly with your older child so that you can together adjust their schedule as much as possible so that getting the right amount of sleep is kept a priority.
Schedule Disliked Activities For As Early As Possible
If there’s a necessary part of your evening routine that your child really dislikes, consider getting it over with as early as possible so that it doesn’t become negatively associated with bedtime.
- For example, while taking a warm bath is a relaxing part of many children’s nightly routine, your child may hate baths (or showers) with a passion. If so, consider scheduling bath-time right after dinner and before quiet play time, so that your child doesn’t have to endure it right before bed.
Give Your Child A Heads-Up As Bedtime Approaches
Your child will probably be less likely to throw a tantrum over bedtime if you give them adequate warning. This way, they can prepare to switch gears from one activity to the next.
- For example, give your child a five minute warning before bath-time, and then another five minute warning before you need to head to the bedroom for story-time.
Give Your Child Choices
The appearance of choice can be important to kids of all ages, so even though your schedule is firm, you can still find ways to let your child exert some independence.
- For example, after your child has bathed and changed into pajamas, you can ask: “Now what do you want to do? Do you want to pick out your story or your bedtime buddies?”
Include Rituals In Your Bedtime Routine
Along with your child, come up with a nightly ritual that you can look forward to, and that as you go through it, will signal to your child that sleepytime is around the corner.
- For example, perhaps you’ll begin by reading two stories while cuddled up, will then sing your favorite lullaby or say your prayers, say your “I-love-you’s”, have your good-night kiss, and then lights out.
Prepare Your Child’s Room For Sleep
As part of your nightly routine, you may want to consider “fixing” your child’s room for sleep. For example, you can help arrange all of his/her stuffed animals around the bed, or sprinkle “good dream dust” around the room.
- Use your imaginations, and try to find a way to make your child’s room and bed feel like a warm, inviting, magical place for sleep.
Chase Away The Monsters
If your child is scared of the dark or fears that there may be monsters hiding under his/her bed, you may be able to alleviate those worries by concocting a special “monster spray” that you can ritualistically spray around his/her bedroom before lights out.
- Little will they know that this magical formula is just water in a spray-bottle!
Plan Your Child’s Dreams
You may be able to help your child get excited for sleep if you talk together and “plan” out what they will dream about: What adventures will you go on tonight? Will you travel with your stuffed animals or friends to Neverland, just like Peter Pan in the story we just read?
- Be sure to ask your child about their dreams when they wake up. You may even want to help them keep a dream journal that you can write and illustrate together. They may be more eager to fall asleep at night if they knows they will be able to make an entry in their journal in the morning.
Avoid Staying With Your Child As He/She Goes To Sleep
While your child may want you to stay with him until he drifts off, and while you might be tempted to grab a few more quiet cuddles, you could be setting yourself up for trouble if your child becomes dependent upon you in order to be able to fall asleep.
- If your child needs you to cuddle, rock, or sing her to sleep, she won’t be able to fall back asleep on their own during the night should then wake up. This is what is sometimes referred to as “sleep-onset association disorder”.
Provide Your Child With Transitional Objects
Giving your child a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can be an effective substitute for your presence.
- Tuck both your child and their buddy, toy, or blanket into bed, and then reassure them that the toy will help them fall asleep.
Design A Special Sleep Pillow For Your Child
Your child may look forward to sleep if you together design a special sleep pillow (or blanket): decorate it with happy, safe thoughts, pictures, or poems.
- You can then place a magical “spell” on the pillow that will guarantee your child will have good, fun dreams and restful sleep.
Stay Mostly Consistent On The Weekends
Overall, it’s important to try to stick to as close of a regular sleeping schedule as possible. As a family, you may be tempted move away from your regular bedtime schedule and to sleep in on the weekends.
- While your child may need an extra hour or so of sleep on the weekend, letting them sleep in much longer than that could make Sunday night (why won’t he/she fall asleep?!) and Monday morning (why won’t he/she wake up?!) unbearable.
Hopefully, these tips will help ease the transition from awake time to bedtime for you and your child. Now where’s that remote?…