Child sleep: Put preschool bedtime problems to rest

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Child sleep: Put preschool bedtime problems to rest

You're past middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes, but a good night's sleep is still elusive. Maybe bedtime has turned into a battle of wills, or you're struggling to get your preschooler to stay in his or her bed all night. Worse yet, these bedtime battles might be leaving your child tired and cranky during the day. Consider these simple strategies to put the most common bedtime problems to rest — starting tonight!

The problem: Bedtime is chaotic

The scenario: Your days and nights are booked. You often feel rushed when you put your child to bed.

The solution: Even if you need to rearrange your own schedule, it's important to make bedtime a priority. A predictable, calming bedtime routine is often the key to a good night's sleep.

What's in the bedtime routine is up to you. You might give your child a warm bath, brush his or her teeth, read a few stories and say bedtime prayers. Each night, you might praise your child for a specific accomplishment or describe something that makes you proud of your child. If you play bedtime music, play the same songs every night — and select other tunes for daytime music. Then tuck your child snugly into bed and say good night. Experiment to find what works best for you — but once you settle on a routine, follow the same sequence of events at the same time and in the same order every night.

The problem: Your child doesn't want to go to bed

The scenario: It's bedtime, but your child fusses about going to sleep because he or she doesn't want to miss anything.

The solution: If your child can hear talking, laughing, or sounds from the computer or TV, it's easy to see how he or she would feel left out. To ease the transition to bedtime, keep things quiet during the last hour before bedtime. Keep the TV out of your child's room. Put away noisy games and toys. Turn off the TV, computer and video games throughout the house. Dim the lights. Limit the entire family to quiet activities, such as reading books or doing puzzles. Sleep may be more appealing if everyone slows down before bedtime.

The problem: Your child won't fall asleep alone

The scenario: Your child begs you to stay in the room until he or she falls asleep.

The solution: To encourage your child to fall asleep alone, help him or her feel secure. Start with a calming bedtime routine. Then make sure your child has a favorite comfort object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, for company. If your child is afraid of the dark, turn on a night light or leave the bedroom door open.

If your child continues to resist, you might promise to check on your child every 10 minutes until he or she falls asleep. During these checkups, praise your child for being so quiet and staying in bed. Remember that you're helping your child learn to fall asleep alone. If you give in and climb into bed with your child, that's what your child will remember — and probably expect the next night.

The problem: Your child won't stay in his or her bed

The scenario: You put your child to bed, only to find him or her trailing you down the hall.

The solution: Don't let bedtime become a power struggle. When your child's bedtime routine is complete and he or she is comfortable, remind your child that there's no reason to get out of bed. If your child gets up, promptly return him or her to bed — repeatedly, if necessary. You may have to shut the door or put up a gate or barrier.

The problem: Your child stays up too late

The scenario: Your child's bedtime is 8:30 p.m., but by the time he or she is ready for bed it's usually past your bedtime.

The solution: If your child isn't tired at bedtime, you might be fighting a losing battle. Try scaling back daytime naps or rousing your child earlier in the morning. You can also put your child to bed a few minutes earlier every night until you're back to the original bedtime. Whatever time you put your child to bed, remember to stick to a calming bedtime routine. Taking time to wind down might help your child fall asleep.

The problem: Your child wakes up during the night

The scenario: Your child wakes up during the night and won't fall asleep again without your help.

The solution: If your child wakes up during the night, give him or her a few minutes to settle down. If time alone doesn't do the trick, you might go to your child's room and offer calm reassurance. Then tell your child that it's time to sleep and leave the room. Wait longer each night to go to your child's side, until eventually your child falls back to sleep without your help.

The problem: You're frustrated with your child's bedtime problems

The scenario: You're tired of the whining, crying and complaining, so you give up and let your child fall asleep in front of the TV.

The solution: Bedtime battles can test a parent's resolve. Still, it's important to hang in there. You might need to be patient — and ignore whines, cries and pleas — but it's never too late to teach your child good sleeping habits. If your child is pushing the limits, state your expectations and stick to the routine.  Eventually, your consistency will pay off in a good night's sleep for everyone.

Last Updated: 2011-10-06
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