How to get your child to sleep
This is probably one of the family problems that I am asked about most frequently. When parents get in touch with me, they are often at the end of their tether, with their children and sometimes with their partners and at work. There are no magic answers to this one I’m afraid – but there are answers on How to get your child to sleep.
Just like a diet or a new fitness regime, any changes we make to try and improve our children’s routines won’t lead to instant benefits. Like anything that’s worth doing, it takes a while to work. Remember this like you remember that eating one apple or going for a single run won’t lead to instant weight loss and super-fitness.
Here is a step-by-step guide on How to get your child to sleep
4 steps to follow
- Get reasonable
- Decide on the bedtime routine
- Show your child it’s bedtime
- Stick with it
How to get your child to sleep in 4 steps
1. Get reasonable
The first thing to do is to decide on a reasonable time for bed. This will be the non-negotiable, etched-in-stone time that you, your partner, your child, and any babysitters will know and won’t be able to forget.
2. Decide on the bedtime routine
Bath, book, the bed is popular for a reason. It works. The earlier you start it the better. However, whatever routine you decide on, just make sure you do the same thing every time. Like Pavlov’s dog slavers before the presentation of food, after a while the routine starts to work for you and your child will start to unwind before getting into bed.
Ensure you predict anything that might stop a smooth bedtime. Think toilet-check, drink sorted, all teddies present and correct, etc. These are all the excuses your child might use to get out of bed and play for time. Kids, you may have noticed, can be very good at this.
3. Show your child it’s bedtime
Once you’ve said goodnight, given them the last kiss, and cuddle, then that is it, conversations must end. To do this nicely and supportively I suggest that regardless of the “playing for time” strategy, just redirect your child to getting ready for sleep.
Here are some examples:
Jnr: I’m not tired.
Snr: Well you just need to put your head on the pillow.
Jnr: The wind is blowing and I can’t get to sleep.
Snr: It is a bit loud, but it’s fine. Just try putting your head on your pillow.
Jnr: What are we doing tomorrow?
Snr: I told you earlier, it’s time for sleep now. Put your head on your pillow.
My advice is not to tell your child to “go to sleep” but instead ask them to put their head on their pillow. You can’t make a child go to sleep but you can create the best chance of them doing so. And sleep will come.
4. Stick with it
You can’t do this for a couple of nights and expect it to work. You need to show your child that you are not moving on this one. This is the new bedtime, no exceptions. During this transitional time, you cannot make exceptions for even important events such as visiting grandparents, the world cup final, and meteor showers.
Also read this guide on how to Speak Gently To your Children
Some Other tips to get your child to sleep
Nice aren’t they? Kids like them too. They often need them because they went to bed too late or got up early because they had a nap the previous day. The vicious cycle continues. I can’t tell you exactly when your child needs to stop having a nap during the day, but if they can’t get to sleep at night, then it might be time. Your child may (ok, will) get very irritable when the daytime naps come to an end, at least until they start getting the right amount of sleep. No pain, no gain.
Distractions in the bedroom.
I’m not going to tell you that TVs and handheld gamey things should be banned from the bedroom, but I do think that if you want the best chance of your children sleeping at night, they should associate their bedroom more with sleep than screen.
I would suggest though that there is a curfew on screens of any type after a certain time. Children’s brains need some time to get ready for rest. (Many adults have trouble sleeping because they haven’t truly logged off before they try to sleep.)
Using a star chart
Now I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the star chart (my reasons are outlined here) but if your child is old enough to understand the concept and it is used sparingly, they are a good way of encouraging your child to put their heads on their pillow.
Print one out from the web or even better get your child to draw a chart with 3 to 5 spaces for stars. Explain why sleep is so important and agree to a little treat if all the stars are filled out and what needs to happen to successfully earn a star.
My suggestion would be that if Junior keeps their head on their pillow after you’ve said goodnight and left them to sleep, then they will wake to an extra star on the chart when they wake, IN THE MORNING!
Note: Again, it’s really important that you predict any reasons your child might need to get up and prepare them so they don’t.
A sleep diary
This is something I recommend to parents of babies and young children alike. It’s so important that you can see that things are getting better in terms of sleep so recording the bedtimes and wake times of your child can help keep you sane when you think things will never improve. It will also help you set reasonable bedtimes and getting-up times.
So there you go – the answer. Consistency over time and supportively set limits. Do this and you’ll be enjoying more peaceful evenings, better nights of sleep, and happier, healthier children in no time