Parents of young children, I’m sure you’ve had a long, bumpy road. I imagine you start the bedtime routine at 7, at which time you begin coaxing your young child to undress and get in the bath. The process ends sometime after 9 p.m., at which point you wake up next to your child bleary-eyed, wondering how long you’ve been lying there next to him because he insists you lie down with him every night when he goes to bed. Am I right?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. Know that countless other parents are going through what you’re going through. Also know that developing good sleep habits is like developing good tooth-brushing habits — it takes time for your child to get there, but once he does, it’s second nature.
A great book to read is “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. In it, he discusses all sorts of sleeping problems, from apnea to night terrors. Though much of the book focuses on your child’s sleep during the first year of his life, he also outlines a multi-pronged approach to help you wean your child off his bad sleep routine. He explains the importance of a regular sleep schedule in order to ensure that your child is well-rested, and by extension, happy.
For some, their child’s nighttime sleep isn’t the main issue because their child is already sleeping through the night — it’s the two-hour routine of getting there that’s the problem. So what to do?
RUN AN IN-HOUSE ERRAND
One technique that worked for a few friends of mine is this: Try putting your child to bed and then telling him you’re going off to run some sort of errand (feeding the dog, cleaning up from dinner, getting into your own pajamas) and will be right back. Make sure to come back immediately so that he knows to trust you. Then, after a few moments, do it again, and this time, leave for longer. Then, the next night, do it again but make the period in which you leave even longer. Eventually, in one of those waiting jags, your child will fall asleep — without you there.
What about the child who gets out of bed every few minutes for the first hour after she is put to bed — for a drink of water, because her tummy hurts, for you to come tuck her in, because her tongue hurts (yes, I’ve heard this one), because she has an itch … the requests seem endless.
DON’T FALL INTO THE ATTENTION TRAP
What most of these kids seek is parental attention. If you give it to them, they are usually not going to say, “I got what I wanted from her. Now I can go to bed.” They are usually going to try to get it again. In this case, explain to your child before bedtime that she can no longer come out of her bed once you’ve said goodnight and that if she does, you are going to walk her back to bed without saying a word. Then, follow through on your good intentions. The first time she comes out of her room asking for that drink, take her hand and wordlessly escort her back to bed. Remember, behaviors like this get worse before they get better so there might be a tantrum involved. Try to leave the emotion out of it and stay calm and even-tempered (I know — easier said than done). Your child is trying to get attention from you — good or bad. Don’t give in!
Sometimes, it’s harder on the parent to teach how to sleep properly than it is on the child. But in the long run, it’s worth it.