New and Old Ways To Get the Kiddos To Sleep!
Kids who don't or won't sleep are one of the most daunting and unwelcome challenges of parenting. If children sleep poorly, their parents are likely to do the same, and the result is irritability, grumpiness, and general misery. A new study suggests the stakes might be even higher. Its authors found a clear association between the bad sleep of babies and children and the poor health of parents—physical and sometimes mental.
So, what does that tell us? That there is indeed a link between the health of children and that of their parents!
12 to 18 months: "Go back to sleep!"
For young toddlers, the most common sleep problem is frequent waking—some naturally wake up as many as six times during a single night. "The question isn't really why your child wakes during the night," Mindell says, "but why he can't put himself back to sleep."
If he can't soothe himself in the middle of the night by this age, there's probably some part of his bedtime routine that he can't do on his own: a song, a story tape, or you sitting cross-legged with a grapefruit balanced on your head. Developmentally, too, this is a tricky time, since a child is old enough to figure out that the minute he closes his eyes you'll leave, his pacifier will drop out of sight, and his music will squeak to a halt. The bottom will fall out of his world. Therefore, why would he want to fall asleep?
The solution: Train him to drift off on his own by creating new sleep associations. This way, you won't have to drag yourself out of bed every hour.
See nighttime through your child's eyes. Stand in his room and imagine that it's 2 a.m. What does your child see? A light on in the hallway? Toys in the bed? Make his bedroom look the same at bedtime, as it will in the wee hours. If you don't plan to be sitting in that rocking chair singing to him then, get out of there before he falls asleep.
When you do get that late-night wake-up call, do a simple checking routine that involves going into your child's room (or taking him back there) to tell him that everything is okay. Be gentle but firm: Don't cuddle, play, or stay too long. Your goal is to make him think it's not worth his while to call for you.
Delay gratification. As the night goes on, stretch out the time between his first call for you and when you go into his room. Try waiting five minutes the first and second times, ten minutes the next, and so forth. And give him several days to adjust. Changing up the rules on them may take a week or so to adjust.
18 months to 3 years: "Just go to bed!"
As your child gets a little older, sleep problems may start earlier in the evening. Toddlers hate to go to bed in the first place. Why? They're control freaks ("No! My way!") and they have wild imaginations ("There's a shark under my bed!"). At first, their plaintive voices, asking to kiss the dog good night or for you to please, please check behind the curtain, are cute. But by 9 p.m. you may be at your wit's end, and your child will end up sleep-deprived.
Indulge (a little) at tuck-in. Get her what she needs --the first few requests are probably legit. It's okay to acknowledge her fears, too; it'll soothe, rather than encourage, if you can spray "monster poison" (water) around or put in a nightlight.
Then stand your ground. If you're having trouble setting limits during the day, you may be at war by bedtime. So once you've said "one more," that's it. She may plead or whimper, but you'll both be better off if you can stay firm. Say good night and mean it. (If she follows you out of the room, return her to bed with just another "good night." Nothing else.)
3 to 6 years: "You still need me?"
Preschoolers love attention, so often they'll get out of bed or call you back simply because they can't get enough of you. But you can use that very lust for attention to help them sleep.
Stage your appearances. After saying good night, explain that you'll be back in five minutes to give him another kiss or read a short story if he's quiet and stays in his bed. Do the same again and again, each time staying away for a longer period. "The key is that you have to return," says Mindell, so keep your promise. Some kids may require shorter intervals; that's okay. Just stretch out the intervals and do fewer "I'll be backs" over the course of a week.
Level with him. Some mothers have reported telling their children that they will be a much nicer mommy, with non-interrupted sleep!
Another common sleep problem among preschoolers is night terrors, which peak between ages 3 and 6, affecting about 5 percent of kids. Generally occurring within two hours of falling asleep, these scary incidents often start with a scream. Your child may flail, breathe rapidly, sweat—even bolt out of bed. They're actually much worse to watch than to experience, says Mindell, so try not to freak. Other than keeping your child safe during a night terror, your goal should be to do as little as possible.
No matter what your child's age or sleep troubles, you need to be consistent and persistent to get him into bed—for the whole night.