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Parent Handouts and Info - Parent


Bedtime parent text


18 months - 5 years.

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Do you dread putting your child to bed at night? Many parents do because bedtime can be a big fight! Many children do not want to go to bed at night. They may want to continue playing or they may not want to go to sleep alone. Some children are scared of the dark and some just have a hard time winding down for the day. There is no one size fits all answer to fix bedtime problems. The solution depends on what is going on with your child. Below are some tips that may help bedtime be more peaceful and may help your child stay asleep. Before you try these strategies take a few nights to think about why your child is struggling at bedtime. Try these strategies for at least a week before you try something else.

Tip #1: Make sure bedtime is when your child is tired, but not too tired.

  • Neither children or adults can fall asleep when not sleepy.
  • Children can also struggle to get to sleep if they are too tired.
  • Pick a bedtime for your child based on when he/she is tired. Watch your child for signs of being tired including: rubbing eyes, yawning, staring into space, being irritable or grouchy, moving slowing, or becoming more clumsy or disorganized.
  • Try to stick to about the same bedtime every night. Having your child wake up at about the same time everyday can help you keep a regular bedtime.

Tip #2: Follow a bedtime routine.

  • Following a bedtime routine communicates to children that playtime is over and it is time to slow down and go to sleep.
  • A good bedtime routine is not too long or too short. It should involve 2-3 things.
  • For younger children, this may be giving your child a bath and reading books before you tuck your child in bed.
  • Older children can be more independent in their bedtime routine, but still need adult supervision. They may take a shower, read for 15 minutes in bed, then get a "good night" from mom and dad.
  • Reading is a great way to relax children and help them fall asleep. Reading at bedtime is a great habit to get into and can help children in the future. Even older children may enjoy being read to.

Tip #3: Avoid stimulating activities around bedtime.

  • Watching television at bedtime can make it harder for children to fall asleep. Television is stimulating for most children, not relaxing. Avoid television the hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid having your children play active games (for example, tag or sports) the hour before bedtime.

Tip #4: Keep your child's room cool at bedtime.

  • Cool temperatures communicate to the body that it is bedtime.
  • Taking a warm bath or shower and then going into a cool room can help your child relax for bed.
  • At bedtime, keep your child's room around 70 degrees.

Tip #5: Ease your child's fears.

  • Many young children are scared to go to sleep at night. Young children have big imaginations. Their imaginations can lead them to think there are scary things in the dark.
  • As a parent, you need to respond to your children's fears. Leaving a child alone when he/she is really scared is unkind and can increase anxiety about bedtime.
  • Talk to your child about what is scaring him/her and work together to prevent fears.
  • If your child is scared of the dark, install a night light.
  • Many parents find creative ways to help their children feel safe. For instance, one father used Febreeze as "anti-monster" spray. Spraying his son's room with Febreeze at bedtime helped his son feel safe going to bed.
  • Your child may feel safest sleeping with a "lovey," or special blanket or stuffed animal.
  • Respond to your child if he/she is scared in the middle of the night. Help calm your child but encourage him/her to stay in his bed.
  • If your child wakes and is upset in the middle of the night, check in with him/her but encourage falling asleep alone.

Tip #6: Have your child fall asleep on his/her own.

  • Most people need certain things to fall asleep. Some people need a certain pillow or for it to be dark and quiet. These things are called "sleep associations." Some people need someone else there to fall asleep, like mom or dad.
  • If your child falls asleep with you there, he/she will expect you to be there in the middle of the night to help him/her fall back asleep.
  • Put your child to bed sleepy but awake. Make sure he/she is comfortable to help him/her fall asleep alone. You may have to put your child to bed a little later than normal when he/she first starts to fall asleep alone.
  • If your child wakes and is upset in the middle of the night, check in with him/her but encourage falling asleep alone.

Tip #7: Have your child fall asleep where he/she will be sleeping all night.

  • Do not let your child fall asleep on the couch and then move him/her to bed.

Tip #8: Create a good sleep environment

  • It will be easiest for your child to fall asleep if he/she is comfortable. Be sure his/her bed has the number of pillows and blankets your child likes.
  • Keep the room dark, unless your child needs a nightlight.
  • Keep noises to a minimum. Do not blare the TV or the radio by your child's room. Some children sleep well with a white noise machine to block out outside noises.

Tip #9: Set limits (with a little flexibility)

  • Some children learn that they can stall bedtime by asking for one more story or one more glass of water. Pick a rule about how many stories and drink they get and set a limit.
  • Setting limits at bedtime can be really hard. As a parent you may enjoy this special cuddle time with your child and want to read another story. You may worry that your child really needs a drink or a snack. Children often need parents to set limits, however, to ensure a full night of sleep.
  • In some families it works to give the child a "one more" ticket each night. You can make this ticket from a 3x5 index card. Your can then cash in the ticket for one more glass of water, one more story, one more trip to the bathroom, one more song OR one more hug. After the ticket is used, be firm that it is time to go to bed and don't give into any more requests.
  • Children may also come to their parents' beds in the middle of the night. If you want your child to sleep in his/her bed, you will have to set a limit. Take your child back to his/her bed. Do this every time your child comes to your bed. It may take a few nights for your child to learn to stay in his/her bed. Be sensitive to the fact that your child may be scared and may need extra support from you.
  • You will need to be flexible sometimes about bedtime limits to meet the needs of special occasions, when your child is sick, or when your child is struggling for some other reason.

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