Getting Your Child to Go to Bed

By: Dr. Noel Swanson.


After a fully-packed day looking after the children, you long for bedtime. But, your child just doesnít like the idea of going to bed before his parents. This is a common experience of most parents. You want a bit of peace and quiet at the end of a day spent in feeding them, washing clothes, clearing their mess, putting up with temper tantrums, and many other things. You ask them to go to bed, but thatís exactly what they donít like to do.

But it seems that over a third of children refuse to go to bed before their parents!

So, if your child belongs to that category, here are some pointers that might help:

First, you need to establish how much sleep they actually need. Most children under 12 need about 10 to 12 hours sleep (the younger they are, the more they need). However, some kids just seem to need very little. If that is the case with yours, ie, they genuinely function well on, say, 6 or 8 hours sleep, there is just no point fighting with them to go to bed 4 hours before they need to - all that will happen is they get up four hours earlier and wake you up then, instead!

After you have established a reasonable bedtime, you should stick to it. Kids take advantage of any weakness. They will not miss a chance to manipulate you into giving them an extra hour. They have a fertile imagination and will concoct any and every tactic to wrangle that from you. They will ask for a drink or a question, or they will say they are scared or need to pee, anything! Some of them are so good at it that they might make you feel sorry for them so that you allow them to stay up later or sleep in your bed. Don't give in.

If you have set the rules clearly, make sure you adhere to them. Establish a bedtime routine. Itís more important for the younger ones. You will need to start much before the target bedtime and lead them through changing clothes, doing teeth and bathroom, reading a story and so on. It pays to give them your full attention during this routine.

Finally, put the lights out, whether they are asleep or not. Be firm and calm. Make it clear that you expect them to stay in bed. Some children canít sleep in the dark room; so leave the door open or a night-light for them. If your child likes music, you could put on some gentle, soothing music too.

All this is fine, but if the child gets out of bed, or calls for your attention, then you need to judge the situation calmly. If the need is genuine, cater to it without giving them too much attention so that it doesnít become a routine affair.

Children are inventive; they will invent excuses, problems. One way to tackle this is to set a timer and tell them that you will check on them in ten minutes, if they stay in bed. The trick is to begin with a small time and then gradually increase it. Make sure you live by your promise, but donít overstay. Just come and tuck them in, caress them and leave.

If the child takes very long to sleep you may have to repeat this routine twice or thrice till he falls asleep. You can go on increasing the intervals till he is asleep. In the beginning it will involve a lot of work, but if you do this consistently then they will learn to stay in bed and it will become part of the daily routine.

Remember to be positive by praising your child for staying quietly in bed. Also, be very particular about keeping your promise by going to check exactly at the time fixed. This is where the timer comes in handy.

If your child gets up before your next check, you can do the following:

First, send them firmly back to bed. Don't shout; just make it clear you mean business. Then remind them that you WILL be up to tuck them in again, but it won't be until the timer says so, and now you are going to have to restart the timer as they got out of bed. Having done that, ignore them until the time for your next check.

Remember to reward your child for staying nicely in bed. Make a star chart or something similar to encourage him.

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Dr. Noel Swanson has a free newsletter with expert parenting advice and also writes frequently for Yes Parenting website.
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