Sleep struggles are a common occurrence for many families. From avoidance tactics to outright tantrums, the transition to bedtime can cause long lasting stress for you and your child. You can rest easier by considering a few simple sleep tips to avoid bedtime battles.
As difficult as it may be when your little one starts to have bedtime meltdowns, you need to remain consistent. Children thrive with structure and predictability, so ensure you have set up a consistent bedtime routine. Don’t start the routine 10 minutes after your child should already be in bed. Make sure you start early, engage your child with a calming activity (e.g., reading books, colouring or drawing) and avoid sleeping with them until they fall asleep.
Create a calm environment
When children do not get enough sleep, it can affect their health and behaviour. A calming environment can help to settle an uncalm child and ward off bedtime battles. Turn off all electronics or any other distractions at least 45 minutes before you start the bedtime routine. Dim the lights and noise level in the house and consider listening to soft music.
Plan in advance
You know the scene, you tell your child it is bedtime and all of sudden they are starving. Or they are tucked into bed and then call out that they are thirsty and need to use the washroom. You can avoid these potential bedtime battles by giving them a snack and small drink at least an hour before their bedtime.
Practice relaxation strategies
For many children, avoiding bedtime may mean they are struggling with some of their thoughts. Worries can feel very real to your child. Help them relax by practising various soothing strategies. While lying bed, your child can trace the outline of their fingers and take deep breaths. Or perhaps help them practice some guided imagery. Have your child close their eyes and imagine a scene that brings them joy. Check out this YouTube video on teaching self-regulation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AwM3GLRPe4
Consider your child’s age
If your child is pushing back at bedtime, it may mean that they in fact not tired. Have you been putting them to bed at the same time for the past couple of years? Though every child is different, there are some guidelines you may want to follow:
- 1-3 Years Old: 12 – 14 hours per day
- 3-6 Years Old: 10 – 11 hours per day
- 7-12 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day
- 12-18 Years Old: 8 – 9 hours per day
- Use positive reinforcement
For some children, they just need to know that you are close. Once they are in bed, set a timer and check-in on them. Give them a kiss, tell them how proud you are and that you can’t wait to hear all about their dreams during breakfast. Don’t forget to gradually increase the time on your timer. You may even want to use a sticker chart where they can earn a prize.
Get out of “jail” card
Do you have a child who gets out of bed frequently? Why not introduce a “pass card?” This card allows them to leave their bedroom one time. Make sure to discuss how the card works and what they can do once they request a pass (e.g., no video games but a hug from mom or dad is always okay).
Use fun imaginative toys
Does your child have a favourite stuffed animal or toy? Take your child shopping for a new comforting sleep toy. You and your child can have lots of fun pretending their favourite stuffies will protect them through the night. The Night Knights™ (thenightknights.com) are fun imaginative toys that come with a story book. They are guardian knights for children’s bedrooms. Children will awake to find that their Night Knights™ have been busy through the night and have captured an “intruder” or some other fun scene that parents use their own imaginations to create.
There is no one strategy that fits all kids. Try a few at once and give it time. Keep in mind that your child may just be “going through a difficult phase”. Breaking habits takes consistency and patience. If you are still not sure what to do, sleep on it!