Sleep is crucial for children, because it benefits them both physically and mentally. Ironically, while most parents would love to turn in early a few nights a week, most small children do not want to go to bed…EVER. This often becomes a battle for parents and their children on a nightly basis. It doesn’t have to be this way forever though, as long as you adopt one or more of these strategies.
Set a regular bedtime
According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need 11-13 hours of sleep within each 24-hour period. To determine when “lights out” should be, count hours backwards from when your child wakes up in the morning, and subtract the time her typical nap lasts. Once you have a time determined, stick to it.
Practice a regular bedtime routine
Do not allow television or video games for the last hour before bedtime, because these are stimulating activities which are not sleep-conducive. A warm bath on the other hand, is relaxing for children in the evening. Once your child is in his or her pajamas, read together in bed to really get them tired.
Make sure your child uses the potty
Make trying to potty a requirement just before lights out.
Allow “quiet toys” in bed
Collect soft toys that don’t make loud noise and set them aside until bed time. Once you’ve read together, let your child play with his “bedtime toys” in bed until he falls asleep. Stuffed animals and fabric picture books are good choices for bedtime toys. If your child doesn’t yet have a “lovey” stuffed animal or blanket, he may select one from his bedtime toys (that’s a good thing – it’s a sign that he’s trying out a way to do this on his own).
Provide white noise
There’s probably still family activity going on outside your child’s room after her bedtime, so use a natural white noise machine or classical music to muffle the interesting sounds coming from outside her room.
Safely disable the bedroom door
Put a baby gate across the bedroom doorway so your child can’t leave their room whenever they feel like it. Caution: do NOT use heavy furniture to block doorways in case of fire or other emergencies that requires evacuation.
Offer a breakfast-time reward
Reward your child for staying in her bed the night before with a special breakfast treat, like a small donut or a bowl of her favorite “fun” cereal. Make clear to her that she gets this treat for staying in bed and going to sleep. If your child is older, use a reward chart, and agree on a reward after a full week of successful bedtimes, like a movie or a trip to a new playground.
Do not lie down with your child
This is delaying your child’s embracing the idea of sleeping on their own. Explain that you are going to kiss her goodnight, and then you will go to sleep in your bed. Explain to your child ahead of time that if she comes out, you are bringing her right back to her bed
Don’t reward getting out of bed
Take a wandering child immediately back to his room. Don’t allow any stalling, T.V. viewing or playing – these are rewards for his noncompliance.
Give this process some time
This can take a couple of weeks in some children, but all children learn to sleep on their own. Remember that consistency in your behavior is the most important part of the adjustment.
Discuss sleep training with your pediatrician
If the issue doesn’t respond with any of these methods, discuss the matter with your pediatrician. Studies show that there are children who need to “cry it out” to fall asleep on their own initially, but this can be a difficult choice for parents to make. Ask your pediatrician what she recommends.