I keep being asked questions about sleep! Parents want a lot more sleep and our children do not!
Why is it so hard to get children to sleep....?
Some of our own children had trouble sleeping but I think what helped me was routine, routine routine!
But before we start discussing sleep we need to think about what kind of day your child is having?
Children who still have naps: Are their naps too long? Are they having a nap near bedtime? Many parents try and cut out naps but their child becomes overtired and bedtime becomes a real chore. According to Healthy Children. org ( American Academy of Pediatrics) children age 1-2 need 11-14 hours sleep including naps on a regular basis for optimal development. Children age 3-5 years need 10-13 hours including naps.
Also, all kids need a balanced diet for healthy development. It seems so easy to give our kids junk food when we are busy and tired but if possible buy healthy snacks for them. With 4 children, there were many times we could not sit down for dinner together as I had to drive them to various activities. In the car, I used to hand out peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, cheese and crackers. Of course, the kids made a mess of the car but wipes helped to reduce the debris. I avoided giving my children sugary drinks as they caused my children to be hyperactive.
I am a great believer in fresh air and exercise which can tire children and help with their sleep routine. Encourage your child to play outside. They can invent their own games or join in with friends.
Being bored is ok, children have to figure out what to do and they come up with some interesting ideas. Unstructured play helps children use their imagination, I remember my older set of twins made a zoo outside with their stuffed animals including using a blue blanket ( an old one) for a pool for the hippos. They had the monkey up in a tree and the tiger in an enclosed space. They spent hours making their zoo and enjoyed showing us all the various sections and had brought out food for the animals.
Another very common problem and I experienced this with my children was trying to restrict TV and electronic games. It is hard!! I set timers, gave warnings and handed out consequences but it was a battle. Tell your child they have to finish the game in 20 minutes ( a clock/ timer may help they understand the time). This can be a challenge for them as the games are exciting and can be addictive.
If possible, I would recommend reducing electronics an hour or so before bed so your child can calm their mind. Encourage quieter games such as puzzles, books, drawing etc. Depending on your child's age, try and brainstorm ways that they can stop the game ( not during the game, at another time). The more you can involve them in this decision and giving them control, the more successful you will be in getting them to end the game.
Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend your child having a TV in their bedroom. Keep the bedroom for sleeping and quieter activities.
Is your child's bedroom conducive for sleep? Does the room need to be darker ( especially in the summer with lighter evenings). Does your child like their bedroom? Their bedroom should be a place of rest, peace and enjoyment. Can they choose their comforter/ sheets? Do they have favorite pyjamas? Have they a choice of books or can they listen to music? Most children want a favorite cuddly toy/ lovey to take to bed.
Some parents use sleep machines, white noise or introduce their children to meditation to help them sleep. There are many sleep aids to buy and more children are using weighted blankets to help with their anxiety at bedtime.
BACK TO ROUTINES
Children like consistency and predictability. I always gave my children a bath/ shower, stories before bed. I did not spend ages saying goodnight to every toy in the room- do not get involved in this ritual as most children have lots of stuffed animals. Nor did I get them regular drinks of water ( sometimes I did, but not often). I was kind but firm ( because I was exhausted and wanted some 'me time'). Kiss them goodnight and tell them you love them. You may want to have a night light or let them listen to a favorite book/ music. Make sure you know the book and it is not scary. I remember reading a story to my children, it was written by a well known author and many parents recommended it. One part described a hand coming in the window of the child's bedroom and this scared my daughter for days. You know your child best and what will scare them.
You want to enjoy bedtime with your child. It is very special and creates a wonderful bond between you.
A final note is that some kids go through a stage of being scared at night. This is very normal. The best time to talk about your child being scared at night is in the day time when it is light and they are not scared. You can come up with a plan to help them.
You can reassure your child that monsters do not exist but it is in their imagination and you can help your child imagine lots of lovely things such as castles in the sky, flying in the air and eating a mountain of ice-cream.
Reassure them by saying you are near and they will be safe in their room. If it helps, check under the bed or closet. Try not to get pulled in by looking everywhere or you will be there all night. Dim lighting can help and there are all kinds of night lights and glow stars. There are many 'anti monster sprays' on the market or ideas to make your own, such as having a spray bottle full of water. Many psychologists do not recommend this as you are validating your child's fear that there are monsters who could come and scare them.
Talk about how you handle your fears, " I think of a happy place when I am worried. I imagine the beach with the warm sand, blue sea and the smell of salt air." Try and help your child think of their happy place and describe it in some detail with them.
And of course having a lovey to cuddle is very reassuring to most children.
Hopefully your child feels safe and secure in their bedroom and has a good sleep routine which will help everyone.