Patients and Families

Bedtime Doesn’t Have To Be a Battle

Bedtime battles are common in many families, and they vary depending on the child's level of development. It's not unusual for children to do anything they can to avoid going to bed. Luckily, there are ways to make bedtime routines fun and a natural part of your child's day.

An infant's sleeping patterns are determined by his physical needs, such as hunger or a soiled diaper. To help your baby learn to sleep on his own, return him to his crib once he is fed and changed. Babies who sleep in their parents' bed become accustomed to having a warm body nearby when they go to sleep. This habit is not only difficult to break, but it can be dangerous as well. A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents sharing a bed with their baby can increase the risk of infant death. Researchers have concluded that a crib is the safest place for a baby to sleep.

If your baby cries during the night, attend to him and then return him to his crib. Don't worry if he cries for a few minutes. He will learn to pacify himself and will soon be asleep. Richard Ferber's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (Simon & Schuster, 1986), is very informative about getting kids to sleep.

As your child moves into the toddler years, make the bedtime routine a regular part of his day. Tell him several times that it's almost time to get ready for bed. He will be less likely to resist you if he has been forewarned. Remind him after dinner that he may play for a while before bath time. Allow him to play in the bath, since this should be a fun time. You can sit and talk with him while he splashes about.

After his bath, sit and read together. If you work outside the home during the day, this is a great opportunity to spend time with your child. Holding him and snuggling makes these moments even more memorable, and he will look forward each day to this special time with you. You also can praise him for something good he did that day. This helps end the day on a positive note.

Maintaining routines helps children know what is expected of them. Be consistent about rules, such as no snacks after teeth have been brushed. Many kids try to delay bedtime by asking for something to eat or drink. Be firm, and do not respond to these tactics. They will understand that you mean business, and soon they will stop asking.

If your child is afraid of the dark, put a nightlight in his room or hallway. If he says he is afraid or monsters or other imaginary creatures, reassure him that they don't exist. A teddy bear or blanket often helps pacify kids in bed, and you can tuck them in together when kissing your child goodnight.

Once the light is out, do not respond if your child tries to engage you in conversation. Let him know you'll be glad to listen in the morning. If your child gets out of bed, simply take him back. If he complains that he cannot sleep, tell him that's OK as long as he lies quietly in bed.

Diet affects behavior, so make sure your child does not consume food or drinks that are high in sugar or caffeine in the late afternoon or later. These are sure to keep him awake.

Praising your child for his good behavior helps instill good habits. When he gets undressed praise him for getting ready for his bath. Let him know you're proud of him when he prepares for bed.

Children need a full night's sleep, but the number of hours varies depending on age and developmental level. For example, children experiencing growth spurts often need more sleep. If your child acts sleepy or is particularly irritable during the day, he probably isn't getting enough rest and should be given an earlier bedtime. Nighttime routines will influence your child's ability to wake up in the morning, so if you're having trouble getting your kids going, try establishing an earlier bedtime. This is particularly helpful for parents whose children must get moving early in the morning.

Teenagers require a lot of sleep, but many like to stay up late talking on the phone, watching TV or using the computer. Establish rules together that limit their use, and keep computers and TVs out of teens' rooms so you can monitor their use more easily. Let teens know what is expected of them, because routines are just as important for them as for younger children.

Bedtime may vary during the summer, but even if you allow your children to stay up later, their routines should be maintained. As fall approaches, begin getting your children to bed a little earlier each night. Let them know that on school nights they will have to be in bed by a certain time.

Instill regular bedtime routines when your children are young, and they'll learn that such routines are a natural part of their day. A good night's sleep keeps your kids in better physical health, and they'll be well rested and prepared at the start of their day. Getting your kids to bed on time also gives you some quiet time each night, and you'll appreciate that chance to unwind. So break up those bedtime battles, and reap the rewards of bedtime routines!

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC offers Positive Parenting classes and other parenting workshops. For more information, call the Community Education Department at 412-692-7105. Current classes are listed on this Web site.

Last Update
September 11, 2008
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Last Update
September 11, 2008
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