Written by: Dr. Pamela Mitelman and Dr. Nicky Cohen
Bedtime problems are a common complaint among parents. Many children between the ages of 3 and 6 will resist bedtime – doing anything and everything to delay the process! If you are a parent of a child this age, likely you are familiar with ‘curtain calls;’ those times when you thought you were finally out the door only to be called back for water, one more hug, food, or a variety of other creative requests. Curtain calls – once in a while – are to be expected and perhaps likely tolerable. However, when one becomes many and once in a while becomes all of the time, bedtime can become unpleasant and delayed, and a source of stress.
What can you do to end bedtime problems? Here are 6 expert ways to end bedtime problems in young children.
6 Expert Ways To End Bedtime Problems In Young Children
Develop a set bedtime.
Decide on an age-appropriate bedtime and be consistent about it. When deciding on the bedtime, you want to consider factors such as the age of your child, presence or absence of naps, and your child’s individual biological clock. For example, some children have a difficult time with an early bedtime while others have a difficult time with a later bedtime. If your child is napping, it is fine to have a bedtime that fluctuates within a 1-hour period or so, depending on when the nap ended. Bedtime is best based on what time a child woke from the nap and how long he/she needs to be awake, in order to be tired enough at bedtime. To avoid early morning wakings, be sure that your child is not going to bed too early at night.
Develop a calming bedtime routine.
A consistent and predictable bedtime routine will prepare your child’s body for sleep. A bedtime routine is best when it includes calming and enjoyable activities such as bath and storytime. Avoid screen time in the 1-hour period before bed. A bedtime routine should be done in the room where the child sleeps and in low-level lighting.
Ensure an optimal sleep environment.
A sleep environment that is conducive to good sleep is essential for a healthy night of sleep. Children (like most adults) will sleep best in a dark, quiet room, with the temperature on the ‘cool side of comfortable.’ If your child is requesting a light be left on, be sure to allow only 1 source of very (very) low-level lighting as too much light can be a sleep disrupter.
Set limits on unacceptable bedtime behaviours.
Children benefit from limits, during the day and at night. It provides them with a sense of security, understanding, and mastery over their environment. If a child’s bedtime process does not have structure or predictability, a child is likely to resist, stall, or delay going to sleep. Most children are still developing self-control and benefit from the structure of the limit setting that parents offer. A visual bedtime chart can be helpful if a child is having difficulty following rules around the bedtime routine.
Limit or eliminate napping.
Most children stop napping between the ages of 3-5; however anecdotal evidence suggests it may be closer to age 3-3.5 years. If your child is napping and having difficulty falling asleep by 8:30 pm or so, it may be helpful to limit or eliminate the nap. In some cases, preschoolers are scheduled to nap, even when their bodies may no longer require it. In a daycare setting, for example, preschoolers may be placed to sleep as part of the daily curriculum. As a result, the child may not be tired enough to sleep at their bedtime. In such cases, a later bedtime is recommended.
Address nighttime fears (if present).
Some children show signs of being fearful at bedtime. Nighttime fears are common at this age and are usually just a normal part of development and becoming more aware of the world around them. Common fears at this age include fears of the dark, fears of monsters, and fears of harm to themselves or loved ones. Listening to your child’s fears, offering reassurance, using a very low-level night-light, and introducing a security object to sleep with (such as little blankies) are some of the recommended strategies to help your child cope with their fears.
Dr. Pamela Mitelman is a Montreal based Licensed Clinical Psychologist working in private practice. She received her Psy.D. from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. Her interest in pediatric sleep disturbances was peeked while assessing children for learning difficulties and was further solidified after having children of her own. Dr. Mitelman is passionate about educating families on the importance of healthy sleep practices.
Dr. Nicky Cohen is a Registered Psychologist in private practice in Toronto. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from York University and developed an interest in parenting issues related to children’s sleep disturbances after having her first child. She is active in the community disseminating information on healthy sleep practices and increasing awareness of the importance of making sufficient sleep a family priority. Dr. Cohen’s book PARENTING YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP is now available in Kindle ebook format and paperback on Amazon.
The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Individuals are encouraged to speak with a physician or other health care provider if they have concerns regarding their child’s sleep and before starting any treatment plan. The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is provided with the understanding that they are not rendering clinical, counselling, or other professional services or advice. Such information is intended solely as a general educational aid and not for any individual problem. It is also not intended as a substitute for professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique facts.