Are you tired of the bedroom battle? You know, the one that starts as soon as your child suspects you’re trying to coax them into their pajamas?
The battle is real. It must be; how to put kids to sleep is the subject of books, blogs, and podcasts. Moms and dads alike use it as an excuse for dark smudges under their eyes and the need for extra coffee at work.
We don’t have it all figured out yet either, but here are a few ideas that might help you get that stubborn little soldier in bed when it’s time for lights out.
1. Are Your Expectations Realistic?
While most parents know children can’t set their own bedtime, they may not have a good understanding of just how much sleep a child needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants all pediatricians to talk with parents about expectations for bedtime and what constitutes a healthy sleep pattern. In short, the AAP recommends the number of hours a child should sleep based on age.
Newborns from 0-3 months need the most. Normal newborns sleep 12-16 hours each day. They shouldn’t sleep for more than 19 hours. As they get older, the number of hours of sleep children need decreases.
If you’re frustrated over the lack of time your child spends sleeping, make sure you have realistic expectations. While a newborn may need that full 17 hours, your school-age child likely only needs 9-11 hours. Your teenager needs even less.
Also, keep in mind your child’s natural sleep patterns. Are they an early bird or a night owl? It’s difficult to change a child’s sleep patterns, so if possible, work with them.
Hint: Night owls will have a hard time falling asleep if you put them to bed too early.
2. What Is Your Bedtime Routine?
Think about what you do as you’re getting ready for bed. Some people drink a cup of tea. Others take a warm bath and snuggle up with a book.
Maybe you go through your to-do list for the next day or pack your lunch. Whatever you do, it’s a routine. And that routine likely helps you prepare for sleep.
Routines matter to kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers. Bedtime routines act as signals. They let your child know what’s happening next.
Come up with a routine that works for you and your family. If you can work a bath in before bedtime, great! Some children do better with a bath in the morning, so you’ll need to figure out your child’s rhythm.
Most kids enjoy a bedtime story and once you get them into a routine, you won’t get away with not reading at least one book before your child agrees to go to sleep.
Whatever routine you put in place, you’ll help your child relax. Most children adapt to bedtime routines quickly. After a while, you should notice your child’s body relaxing; their eyes may be the last to go.
3. Create Screen-Free Zones
More and more children use tablets, cell phones, and computer monitors. They play games and do homework on the entire range of electronic devices.
The light from those devices doesn’t help children fall asleep. Blue light, the type of light given off by cell phones, tablets, monitors, and even television screens, interferes with the natural production of melatonin. Often called the sleep hormone, melatonin plays an important role in the sleep-wake cycle.
High melatonin levels help your child feel sleepy. Let your child sit in front of the TV for even half an hour before bed, and you can disrupt their sleep cycle. You may, without meaning to, keep them up for 2 hours past their normal bedtime.
Create screen-free zones in your home, starting with your child’s bedroom. Consider curfew for computer games and social media activity. It’s lights out—or screens off—2 hours before bedtime.
4. The Trouble With Sleep
Sleep struggles aren’t uncommon in children. Sometimes they can’t fall asleep, and sometimes, they can’t stay asleep. Children also snore, which can prevent them from a relaxing, healthy night of rest.
And then there are the kids who stall and resist. Some go into a downright rebellion! The aftermath of poor sleep is a child who’s cranky the next day and falls asleep in their lunch.
If your child’s sleep troubles include a headache and a sore jaw when they wake up, they may have a condition called bruxism. One treatment for bruxism is a night guard.
If you notice signs of sleep struggles in your child, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor. They can help diagnose a possible sleep disorder or other health condition and offer solutions that should make bedtime less of a struggle.
5. Keep Calm and Get Ready for Bed
Ever heard of cortisol? Like melatonin, cortisol affects your child’s sleep (yours too). Known as the stress hormone, when levels rise at night before bed, your child may not be able to settle down and go to sleep.
Avoid high cortisol levels and tone things down before bed. Turn the lights low and turn down the stressful activities, including conversation. Create a calming environment before sleeping.
The hour or so before bedtime is probably not the best time for discussions about negative behavior, school performance, or anything else that you already know causes stress for your child.
Speaking of calming environments, look around your child’s room tonight. Do they have one stuffed animal to cuddle with or an entire zoo? Too many snuggle buddies can make it harder to sleep.
6. That Silly Monster Behind the Door
Another reason children balk at bedtime is fear. They’re afraid to go to bed, or they wake up in a sweat during the night, sure they’ve seen monsters in their room.
You can help your child conquer bedtime fear. It’s about positive thinking and training the brain to know who’s boss.
Children often have highly active imaginations. Use this to your advantage and teach them to change the scary things they imagine into something silly.
For example, help them imagine the monster behind the door as a big silly dinosaur who can’t find his pajamas. Try it and you’ll see how many silly scenarios you and your child come up with to deal with the imaginary scary thing they’re sure is in their room.
Still Figuring Out How to Put Kids to Sleep?
Hopefully, our tips give you a few ideas that can help you figure out the mystery of how to put kids to sleep.
Understanding normal sleep requirements, setting up routines, keeping things calm, and paying attention to abnormal sleep behavior all should assist you in helping your child stop fighting the sleep battle.
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