Every parent has been there. You are past the point of midnight feedings, you no longer have to get up to change diapers and your child has moved out of their crib. You foolishly think that you are about to get good, uninterrupted sleep again for the first time in a long while. Jokes on you, mom and dad. Now you have a preschooler who doesn’t want to sleep. What do you do when your child is antibedtime? This month we are going to work through how to deal when bedtime is a nightmare!
For many parents, their child’s bedtime is the most dreaded part of the day, and for good reason: Unless a preschooler is very tired, he may resist going to sleep. Twenty to thirty percent of children have some sort of sleep disturbances at some point in childhood. The truth is there are many reasons that a child may fighting bedtime. They may be afraid of missing out on something, they may be afraid of something or they are attempting to assert control by rebelling.
If your child is having trouble at bedtime, ask yourself some basic questions to try to narrow down the problem. Is their room too hot or cold? Is it too dark or is there too much light? Is their bed comfortable? Is it too noisy? Are they afraid of something? Is your child even tired? Being able to narrow down what the issue may be is the first step in solving the problem. Some issues, like temperature or light may be an easy fix. Others may take a bit more work.
Take a look at your child’s bedtime habits and see if any of these apply. Does bedtime seem chaotic? Will your child not fall asleep alone? Do they stay up too late? Will they not stay in their bed? Your home may have one of these problems or potentially a little of all of them. We have some suggestions that we hope you will find helpful.
One of the most important things to do is to establish a bedtime routine for your child. Toddlers can really thrive on routines and consistency. Your child’s bedtime routine must be focused on creating a calming, secure atmosphere for them to fall asleep. Most of us have very busy days. We need to help our children to slow down and get ready for sleep. A typical routine may consist of a variety of tasks. The typical routine in my home consists of a warm bath, picking out pajamas, a bedtime story and saying our prayers. We complete this routine almost every night. This allows our kids to wind down from their day and they won’t go to bed without some sort of story. Kids can’t and won’t just stop in the middle of playtime to go to sleep. Creating this quiet, calming bedtime routine is the basis of solving many problems that arise at night. It helps when children know exactly what to expect.
Kids may be afraid that they are going to miss out on something if they go to sleep. This may be especially true if they have older siblings who are still up. You can help to eliminate this by turning off the television or any loud music. Allow your entire house to calm down and it will help them to do the same. Maybe your child refuses to go to sleep alone. They cry and beg for you to stay in their room with them. Know that giving in to this creates a habit that will be hard to break. Set limits and stick to them. Helping your child feel secure will help them become more independent at bedtime. Try to find out, are they scared of something or do they just want more time with you? If you start the habit of staying in their bed, they will expect you to do it every night.
Nightmares are no fun for anyone. However, at this age, they can be especially distressing. Preschoolers have trouble distinguishing what is real and what is not. If your child wakes up afraid of bad dreams, do not belittle them or dismiss their fear. Hold and reassure them that they are safe, talk with them and stay until they are calm. Your child may benefit from a security object such as a blanket or a stuffed animal. Make sure that your child isn’t exposed to scary stories or television shows that may be inappropriate and scare them. Talking about fears during the day can help them to seem less scary and threatening.
If you allow them, your child may spend the entire evening putting off bedtime. One more story, one more kiss, one more drink…they will use every trick they can think of to keep you with them. Once you establish a routine for bedtime, stick with it. As tempting as it will be to give in ‘just this once’, it will only make things harder on you and your child.
Be watching for our second email later this month when we give you some tips and suggestions that will hopefully make bedtime easier for your child and you too!