Generations of parents have flopped down on a cozy bed after a long day, breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Why can’t my child look forward to bedtime as much as I do?”
Of course, for many children (and you, their tired parents) the reality is that bedtime can be the most dreaded time of day. You’ve likely had to put up with your child’s clever strategies to delay going to bed: tantrums, demands for more book reading, pleas for water or milk and other tricks.
Yet you know how important it is for your child to get the right amount of sleep for their healthy growth and brain development. Without enough sleep, kids can become hyper and irritable and have a hard time obeying. Getting enough quality sleep can help children in school and at home. So what can you do?
One key piece of the nighttime puzzle is to establish a bedtime routine that you follow each night.
Your routine should include a “winding down” period (starting about 30 minutes before bedtime) of soothing activities, such as taking a bath, using the toilet, brushing teeth, reading a story or other relaxing activities. Going to bed at the same time each night helps all children develop good sleep patterns.
Here are some simple strategies to create healthy, long-lasting sleep habits.
It’s not too early to start a bedtime routine. First, make sure your child has their needs met and isn’t hungry, wet or cold. Also, avoid giving milk or formula to children over 4 months old during the night. They typically do not need the calories, and nighttime feedings can lead to severe tooth decay.
At this age, try to involve your child in making choices about their bedtime routine, such as which pajamas to wear. Also, be aware that TV watching can have a negative affect on children’s sleep. Research at Seattle Children’s found that children under 3 who watched more TV were more likely to have irregular naptime and bedtime schedules. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children age 2 and younger not watch any television.
In this age group, children may seek private time with parents – without siblings around – just before bedtime. Try to build in this quiet time while also ensuring they get the full hours of sleep they need. Rest assured that providing a pleasant and predictable bedtime routine is comforting to children and can help them – and you – get the right amount of sleep. For all children, consistency is key. Once you’ve found a routine that works for your family, keep it up! And stay positive. Praising your child in the morning for going to bed on time (and staying in bed) may help create healthy sleep habits that last a lifetime.
Read All About Sleep to learn more.