Many factors in life can disrupt routines, create stress – and make sleep more difficult.
How can you keep your child’s sleep on track? Connecticut Children’s behavioral sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, joins the Growing Healthy blog with tips.
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First, be thoughtful about bedtime support.
Your child may be picking up any anxiety at home, and asking for a bit more help than usual to get to sleep at night.
It’s important to think through the type and amount of help you offer, and here’s why: Kids who can fall asleep independently after a comforting bedtime routine tend to be better sleepers than kids who cannot. If your child begins to need more of your presence at night to fall asleep, or keeps calling you back for lots of extra requests, falling asleep may begin to take longer and your child may begin to wake more often throughout the night looking for you.
Here are some techniques to help your child overcome bedtime challenges – and become a champion sleeper.
> Related: 8 Mental Health Tips for Parents
Bedtime Challenge #1: Your child wants you to lie down with them in their bed at night, or asks you to give them much longer back rubs, hold hands until they are asleep or sleep in your bed.
Solution: Help your child develop “sleep crutches” that don’t require your help.
Most of us, even adults, need certain “sleep crutches” or “sleep supports” to help us fall asleep easily at night, like sleeping on a certain side of the bed or preferring to have the TV on or off. (The technical term for a sleep crutch is a “sleep onset association.”)
Children develop sleep crutches. too, and it’s best if these sleep crutches are the independent type, like snuggling with a teddy bear or special blanket and looking at a book until drowsy, and not the dependent type, like getting a back rub from a parent until the child is fully asleep.
Your child may want you to lie down with them until they are completely asleep, but think about whether you can help them in a different way and in a way that encourages them to settle themselves to sleep at night more independently.
For example, try:
- Concluding the bedtime routine with some reading time together in your child’s bed, and then giving your child a final hug and kiss.
- Allowing your child to read, look at a picture book, draw, or play quietly with a small, safe toy in bed by the light of a soft bedside lamp until they are drowsy enough to fall asleep independently.
- Sitting in the doorway and reading your own book until they settle if your child is having a particularly difficult time.
While tempting, try to avoid using tablets or other screens as sleep crutches for your child. If you think your child might be spending too much time in front of screens, check out these tips for reducing screen time.
Bedtime Challenge #2: Your child wants to talk about their concerns with you in bed at night.
Solution: Try a “worry jar” and “worry time,” and use these techniques in the daytime.
You will, of course, want to offer time to talk about your child’s concerns, but it’s not a good idea to do this at bedtime in their beds. You don’t want to associate anxious thoughts and difficult conversations with the place where your child relaxes and sleeps. Try to have these talks well before bedtime and in another room, if possible.
To address concerns in a constructive way in the daytime, try the two very useful concepts of a “worry jar” (a jar to collect pieces of paper on which children have written their worries) and “worry time” (a half-hour block of time set aside each day to explore worries). If there is extra time left in the half-hour after you discuss your child’s concerns, use the rest of the time for a fun one-on-one activity. Worry jars and worry time can help keep kids from spending too much time each day focusing on their fears, and can help keep your child’s bed and bedroom associated only with positive things.
Bedtime Challenge #3: Your child is making lots of extra requests when the bedtime routine is (supposed to be) over.
Solution: Try bedtime tickets.
If your child is making lots of “callbacks” (calling you back to their room for “just one more thing”) and “curtain calls” (trips out of their room to find you), try making bedtime tickets: small cards good for one or two more callbacks or curtain calls.
Bedtime tickets are a great way to set limits at bedtime in a way that still lets kids feel like they have some control, but keeps you from granting so many requests that your child loses out on valuable sleep.
Finally, sleep well, be well
Keeping your child’s sleep on track may make all of this just a bit easier. If you think your child is struggling with insomnia, contact the pediatric experts at Connecticut Children’s Sleep Center for support.
Wishing you and yours good health and good sleep!