Friday, October 15, 2010

Go to Sleep!

Getting young children to sleep is a common struggle in many households. Some children are by their very nature designed to have an irregular internal clock. Others seem to have a switch inside that flips them quite regularly into waking and slumbering. But bedtime need not be a nightly battle.
There are things that parents can to do to help their child settle down and prepare for sleep.
It is important for parents to have a fairly predictable, regular schedule for the evening hours. Create a routine and stick to it as much as possible. For example, you might have bath time, a snack, reading, maybe a song and then lights out or dimmed. It may not always be possible to do this within a certain time frame each night due to family schedules, but keeping the routine consistent shows the young child that there is a pattern to the events leading to sleep. Such a pattern allows the child to eventually develop a cycle of hid/her own. Children begin to know what to expect.
Parents can also create a chart of the nighttime routine and have the child check off when s/he has completed each step. This helps the child develop a sense of autonomy and fosters self-management. This is also a good opportunity for parents to give positive reinforcement to their child for following through with expectations.
Recent studies are showing how technology is contributing to sleeplessness. The flashing screens of TV’s, cell phones, and computers have been shown to interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, the chemical known as the “sleepy hormone”. Parents should evaluate the level of visual stimulation present in the home at nighttime to see if they can reduce or eliminate it. Likewise, a noisy household can also over-stimulate children, especially those who are already very active and alert.

Parents might also consider relaxing the bedtime expectations a bit in order to avert power struggles. Rather than requiring children to “go to sleep”, parents can tell their child that they don’t have to go to sleep by a certain time, but they must be in bed and quiet. Consider that giving a child permission to look at a book or talk to their teddy bear is acceptable activity until they fall asleep. Strong-willed children do well when given choices rather than when they are dictated. Many a persistent child has given up the bedtime battle when given reasonable choices!

Having a nighttime ritual that is followed especially during the week is a huge step toward everyone getting a good night’s rest and having a peaceful household. Keep in mind that as children grow their sleep patterns change. As your child reaches adolescence she will once again want to stay up late and sleep till noon, a pattern very typical of teenagers. At that point, the nightly routine might include a “curfew” on electronic devices to reduce the late night stimulation of the brain.

While parents cannot force their child to drift off to sleep, there are ways we can structure our homes to create an environment that makes sleep a possibility for all.


Anonymous said...

Great information. Do you have any suggestions for how to get young (Kindergarten age) children up and moving in the morning?

Denise Continenza said...

That is a great question! The first thing a parent needs to consider is whether or not the child is actually rested. Some kids are well rested, but they are simply slow starters. This can create havoc for a family first thing in the morning!
Assuming that your child is one of those non-early risers, here are some things you can do the encourge your child to get up and moving.
1. Have a routine that your child can follow such as get up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth, feed dog, etc.
2. Consider using a chart where your child and you can check off each step as is completed. This way, everyone can see the progress made.
3. Make games out of the morning routine such as "Let's see who can get dressed and down to breakfast first!"
4. Give lots of positive reinforcement for staying on task. Let your child know how pleased you are when he deos what he needs to in order to get ready.
5. Build in a reward such as "When you are completely ready for school, then you can watch (name a favorite AM cartoon or show)."
6. Energize the environment with music or conversation. Be positive and enthusiastic yourself about the start of a new day.
7. It is reasonable to expect your child to get ready in the morning, but it may be too much to expect him/her to be cheerful about it. Be empathetic and supportive, but encouraging all at the same time.
8. If this continues to be a problem such that the tension runs high and people are late for work and school, it may be time to made bedtime earlier until the mornings run more smoothly. Good luck, and pleas let us know how you make out!