‘Please mom just one more story and I promise I will go right to bed!’ ‘please, Please, PLEASE!’ How many times have you heard that before? All parents know the feeling there is just a few more minutes before the kids go to bed and you are so looking forward to watching that rated R movie that has been hiding in the DVD player for a month now. There is also that book on the coffee table that you have been dying to read and an old friend from High School you would love to talk to on the hone. The anticipation of some quiet time without being asked or heralded to do anything gives you that much needed and second wind and then suddenly; bedtime turns into a 2 hour ordeal that leaves you exhausted and just wanting to go to sleep yourself. Problems at bedtime are one of the top complaints that parents have with their children. Life would be so good if they would just go to sleep when they are told peacefully and happily. No parent wants a bedtime routine to entail crying or stress. So what should the weary parent do?
Whether your child has to constantly get back up to pee, demands another story, calls you repeatedly back into their room or quite simply begins crying having issues with going to bed is stressful. Every child is different and some will react almost relieved that time for bed is upon them whereas others are quite the night owl (even when they are tired) and will do everything to stay up. In order to get passed this drama at bedtime, pediatric professionals recommend setting up a bedtime routine. This routine essentially means that a parent does the same thing every night in the same order to prepare your child for sleep. When children are young the baby and toddler years a ritual is easy. Dinner, bath, playtime, pajamas, book and lights out. What it seems that pediatric specialists forget is that by elementary school many kids cause problems at bedtime despite the routine.’
When you begin to notice that the simple routines are no longer working it is time to let go of your rules and try to find new ones that work better. In all honestly, there are many children at the age of 6 or 7 who just aren’t tired at 7 or 8pm. Allowing them to stay up until 9 or 9:30pm can save you the stress of bedtime problems and even afford you more time to yourself since they are likely to go to sleep faster. When the children see that you are trying to work with them and come up with a compromise you will have more leverage to say No to the extra stories or constant demands without guilt. Explain to the kids that if this approach doesn’t work – whether because they are grumpy in the morning or continue with their incessant whining at night that you can and will revert back to the earlier bedtime.
Another thing to consider is that many children are fearful of going to bed; especially by them selves. If you have taken all the steps necessary to provide a night light and a comfortable place to sleep complete with a thorough check in the closets for the monster that lurks in the night it might not be a bad idea to offer to lay down with your child. Certainly experts mostly agree that children need to learn to self soothe and be able to fall asleep in their own bed alone; but what harm is there really in taking the time to lay down with your child, lovingly spooning them as they drift off to sleep? If it works and it takes less time, effort and causes less stress it might just be worth a try. Sooner than you think it will be difficult to even squeeze a hug or engage them in snuggle time and few if any kids want to sleep with their parents forever! Taking advantage of this gift while they are still willing isn’t really that bad. Additionally, allowing a child to fall asleep next to the parent that makes them feel safe without being upset is priceless. The only risk is falling asleep yourself. Who knows, they may fall asleep so fast that you get more time alone in the evening than ever before.
Problems with sleep are often just a phase that a child is going through. For some it may be part of their inherent personality and for others it may signal that changes in not just the night time routine; but the daytime routine warrant change as well. Adding more exercise, waking them earlier in the morning, skipping or shortening nap times and reducing intake of sugared or caffeinated foods and drinks can allow a child to settle more quickly. A rarely looked at aspect of sleep problems in children is stress. Talk to them about their day and ensure that they are not harboring something from you. You never know if a teacher or friend at school is causing them worry or pain. Perhaps they miss you very much during the day and see the evenings as the only real time the family gets together and therefore want to stay up to enjoy it. Sometimes there are no real decipherable reasons that you child doesn’t want to go to sleep and when this is the case; relax and tell yourself that this is only a phase, it too will pass!
At some point you will be forced to stick to your guns. If your child continues to have problems with sleep it may be that they completely know how to press your buttons in order to get what they want. The struggle is a stressful one and if you have tried everything in order to solve it and are still plagued with night time woes then decide to remain extremely vigilant for a week or so, making no exceptions to the rules of the house and earnestly trying to not be reactive to their emotions. When children see that they are upsetting their parents; whether with anger, stress or sadness they sense that there is an opportunity for their will to win. Ignore it! Children cry, whine, complain, demand, scream, yell, throw tantrums and try their parent’s patience every day in every home across the world. Tune it out, ignore it, negate feelings of guilt or worry and go ahead and turn that DVD on and watch your movie, read your book or call your friend! Eventually they will fall asleep!