Getting your kids to bed each night can be one of a parent’s biggest obstacles. How many times have you heard “Ten more minutes!” or “After this show is over” or “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “One more story, just one more!” Night after night this can become exhausting and frustrating for parents and leave the kids officially sleep deprived. Let’s face it; getting enough sleep is essential for growth, health and overall wellbeing. Research shows that on average 1-3 year olds need 12-14 hours per day, 3-6 year olds need 10-12 hours per day, 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours per day and 12-18 year olds need 8-9 per day. But are your kids really getting it? I know in our household, afterschool activities and homework has caused our teenager to go for weeks with an average of 6 -7 hours a night. And, we’ve experienced the repercussions! Lack of sleep affects every part of a child’s daily functioning. Similar to adults, it makes them more irritable and short-tempered, more emotional and over reactive, and contributes to depression and poor judgment skills. In school, studies show that kids who scored in the lower percentiles also got less sleep than those scoring A’s and B’s. Lack of sleep makes it hard to focus, pay sustained attention and remember things.
So what’s a parent to do? Many kids just don’t want to go to sleep because they are afraid of missing something going on in the family. For other young children, it might be because they are afraid of the dark, or they want to control the situation. In many busy families, it might be the only time that the child gets alone time and complete attention from a particular parent. Whatever the reason is, it’s important for parents to get a handle on it for the child’s health and the well being of the entire family.
To start with, from an early age (12 months) it’s critical to set a bedtime routine. Children thrive when they have consistency because it gives them a sense of security. So start the nightly bedtime ritual about 30 minutes before it’s lights out. Ideally this is a quiet time that doesn’t include any electronics or TV. It helps if dad and other siblings are also winding down at this point so the child doesn’t feel like anything exciting is happening without them. Take this time to brush teeth, get into pj’s and pick out a book to read together. Or just snuggle and talk about the day. Fulfill any requests for water, one last trip to the restroom, or even kissing all the stuffed animals good night. Try to dim the lighting during this time as well to create a more relaxed and sleepy mood.
If your child claims he or she is frightened try to come up with solutions to overcome the worries. For example, put a flashlight next to the bed, make a ritual of locking windows and doors in his room, set up a stuffed animal brigade to ward off any monsters that might arrive and install a small night-light so the room isn’t totally dark.
If your child starts to make a ritual of coming into your room after lights out, it’s important to stand your ground. If you don’t want him or her setting up camp in your bed for the unforeseen future, be consistent about walking them back to bed and explaining why everything is okay and there’s no need to be afraid. You may even need to do this multiple times a night until they get it that you aren’t going to budge.
To reward children for good bedtime behavior, many parents find that a star chart works wonders. Have them help you construct it and explain that for every week that has 6 or 7 stars, they will receive some type of reward. This could be a special show they want to watch, their favorite dessert, or even a special outing with you!