Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Night, Night, Sleep Tight!

  Establishing bedtime routines for young children can often times be a struggle.  And the sad truth of it is, the longer parents delay this "chore" the more difficult it becomes.  Parents create major struggles for themselves when they fail to stand up to their children and be the adult in the relationship.  Many parents love to cuddle and snuggle their small children and love to see them fall asleep on the couch of the family room.  Somehow as the toddler grows, this behavior morphs into a child who can't or won't fall asleep in his or her own room.  The child who stays up until all hours of the night cannot be expected to function academically, socially or emotionally.  This is not a healthy practice because the child who is going to bed at late hours of the night, needs to sleep late in the morning.  Then school begins and this becomes a major problem.  A child cannot function at his or her peak ability level when he/she is not getting proper sleep.

So what are parents to do?  Revisit their approach to bedtime.  Communicate to the child that there are going to be some changes.  Teach the child that the new routine will be a scheduled bedtime preceded by a bath and book.  Warm baths calm their nervous system and help the child relax.  The book allows for some parent/child bonding and snuggle time.  Then it should be lights out, with the understanding that the child is not to get out of bed until morning.  If the child tantrums, it will take about two weeks of staying STRONG and calmly repeating the pattern to firmly establish it.  Each time the child gets up, a non emotional and non communicative parent, places the child back in bed.  An older child may require positive reinforcement such as a special outing or reward earned when he/she stays in bed all night for an agreed upon period of time.  But the understanding must be that there is no going back to the old, bad habits.  Older children have had years of practice manipulating their parents.  So for this to work, the parent must stay strong and NOT negotiate.  It is in the long term interest of the child to learn to calm themselves and sleep in their own space.  And putting a television in the child's room should NEVER be an option.  Television offers no redeeming benefits to children of any age when it is being watched in place of sleep.

When the going get tough, keep the long term benefits in mind.  Your child will be healthier, happier, more alert, and able to cope with quality sleep.  These benefits far outweigh the short term annoyance of dealing with an unhappy child.  Your job is to parent, and good parenting means making your child unhappy at times, for their own good.

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