Q. My wife and I have a difficult time getting our children to bed at night. They fuss and whine about bedtime and make excuses to get up after being put down for the night. Getting the kids to bed is taking a toll on us; we try to get them to sleep early enough that we can have some time together, but I sometimes find myself falling asleep in one of the kid’s beds during bedtime. How can we make this easier?
A. Difficulty with bedtime is one of the most frequently reported parenting issues. Children of all ages often resist going to sleep. Why is this? Causes vary but common reasons include fear, e.g. fear of missing out on something, abandonment, the dark and lurking monsters; being too tired or not tired enough; stress hormones; low blood sugar; anything new such as a new house, new school, etc.; or just sensing your stress and impatience to get them asleep as quickly as possible.
When it comes to bedtime, it may seem like the child has the advantage because he has more energy and persistence, but this is not so. Parents are wiser and have the ability to strategize, ignore, reward and use other behavior modification techniques. Here are some ideas that have worked for other parents:
• Engage your children in some strenuous activity in the afternoon and early evening to help tire them in preparation for bedtime. As the evening progresses, slow the activity down so stimulation is greatly reduced.
• A warm bath and a snack about an hour before bedtime can help stabilize blood sugar and encourage sleepiness.
• Prepare the bedroom with a night-light if there is fear of the dark. Leave a flashlight for checking for monsters.
• Do not have a television in the child’s bedroom. Have older children turn in cell phones, tablets and computers at night.
• Give your young child two passes to use at night – one for a hug and one for the bathroom. This suggestion comes from Betsy Stevens’ article in the January 2013 Parents magazine entitled “Little Insomniacs.” She suggests letting the child know if he doesn’t use his passes, he can trade them in for a reward the next day.
• Complete a bedtime routine such as brushing teeth, laying out clothes for the next day, putting on pajamas, soft music, one book, perhaps prayers and a hug and assure your child you will keep him safe and check on him during the night. Say goodnight and leave.
• Keep household noise at a minimum so kids won’t want to get up to see what they might be missing.
• Parents with school-aged children can seek their input about bedtime rules. Children tend to make stricter rules and help enforce them.
• Let children know that you are happy and proud of them when they go to sleep at bedtime and sleep through the night.
Sleep is exceedingly important for children as it is the time in which they grow mentally and physically. Children who don’t get sufficient sleep often don’t do well in school.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.
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