Is bedtime a struggle in your house? Children’s behavioural specialist and author Alicia Eaton shares her secrets to help develop good sleeping habits in kids from her book Words That Work: How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything.
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Of all the daily arguments in the home, bedtime flare-ups are one of the most common. Young children, in particular, are prone to meltdowns at this time – and let’s face it, late in the evening both tired parents and children are running low on patience and the capacity to cope.
So many of us become more likely to snap and give vent to frustrations, convinced that our kids are doing their best to wind us up. From their point of view, they are not being ‘difficult’, they simply don’t feel the need to go to bed.
The stage is set for an epic battle of wills, and the knowledge that we’re probably going to have to go through the whole sorry experience the next night, makes it even harder to bear.
Most people understand that children need a good night’s sleep to have a happy and healthy life. Poor sleeping patterns in children can lead to poorer achievements at school, behavioural problems and obesity for they’ll start craving sugary, starchy foods, as well as sleep deprivation for the whole family.
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How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?
If you are not sure on how much sleep constitutes a ‘good night’s sleep’, this information below from the NHS shows how many hours they should be getting according to their age;
Age (Yrs) and recommended quantity of sleep
1 = 2 hrs 30 mins (day) + 11 hrs (night)
2 = 1 hr 30 mins (day) + 11 hrs 30 mins (night)
3 = 0 to 45 mins (day) + 11 hrs 30 mins/12 hrs (night)
4 = 11hrs 30 mins
5 = 11hrs
6 = 10hrs 45 mins
7 = 10hrs 30 mins
8 = 10hrs 15 mins
9 = 10 hrs
10 = 9hrs 45 mins
11 = 9hrs 30 mins
12 = 9hrs 15 mins
13 = 9hrs 15 mins
14-16 = 9hrs
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How to Develop Good Sleeping Habits in Kids
1. Establish a Proper Bedtime Routine
It helps to write out a timetable showing the exact time for tidying up, going upstairs, laying out school things, bathing, teeth brushing and reading a story, right up until ‘lights out’.
Write the schedule on a large piece of paper and put it somewhere your child can see. If everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, there will be fewer arguments. Be consistent and do the same thing each night for at least a week and you’ll see things starting to change.
If, after a week, you find you are still struggling to get your kids up to bed, start the routine earlier.
2. Dealing with Bedtime Anxiety
It can be tempting to allow a child who’s nervous about going to sleep, (maybe because they’re afraid of the dark, or regularly suffer from nightmares or night terrors) to have a staggered bedtime routine with some time spent unwinding and snoozing on the downstairs sofa once they’re ready for bed, but this could be making your child’s problem worse.
They’ll find it increasingly difficult to get into the habit of falling asleep independently and you’ll be forever stuck with them on the sofa. They need to learn how to lie in bed and fall asleep naturally.
We’ve all fallen asleep in front of the TV before, only to wake up feeling disorientated and then we struggle to get to sleep when we do actually go to bed. It disrupts the pattern of our sleep cycle and if this regularly happens to your child, it will only add to your bedtime troubles.
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3. Keep the Bedroom Tidy
It’s not relaxing for a child to sleep in a room that has dirty clothes, toys, books and shoes strewn all over the floor.
We all feel calmer in an uncluttered environment and the tidying up process can become an automatic part of the bedtime routine. It will signal the ‘end of the day’.
4. Is the Room Too Bright?
It’s better to sleep in a dark environment because light and hormones dictate our sleep patterns. When light dims in the evening, we produce a chemical called melatonin, which gives the body clock its cue telling us it’s time to sleep.
The sooner you can train your child to sleep in a dark room so much the better. Wean your child off night-lights as soon as you can by taking small steps to making the room darker each night, until you remove the light completely. And do make use of blackout blinds in those light summer evenings.
5. Avoid Electronic Gadgets
Having items like mobile phones, laptops and iPods plugged in and charging near the bed is not a good idea, as the electro-magnetic field created by these stimulates the mind, and will keep your child awake.
And, if they’re awake in the small hours of the morning, the temptation to go on to social media and chat to friends will be too great if the phone is under the pillow. Likewise, it’s better not to have TVs and DVD players in the room; bedrooms are for sleeping and relaxing in. This may be tough for your child but it’s important for good health.
6. Create a ‘Worry Box’
Too often the first opportunity to think about worries is at the end of the day, when our minds are starting to slow down. Don’t be surprised if your child starts blurting out their problems at bath time. This can leave some children ‘wound up’ just when you want them to be winding down.
Encourage them to write each worry down on a piece of paper and put into a ‘Worry Box’. This can be an empty shoe box and your child can decorate it if they wish. Once the worrying thought is written down on a piece of paper, simply fold it up and pop it into the Worry Box, placing the lid firmly back on the box.
Psychological studies show that this works by tricking your mind into thinking that the worry has been dealt with. Let your child open their box once a week and look back to see how many of those ‘worries’ actually went away naturally, or even needed to be have been worried about in the first place.
About Alicia Eaton
You can read more advice about dealing with children’s sleep issues in her book “Words That Work: How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything” which is available priced £12.99.
For more information see www.success-4-kids.com.
Originally a Montessori Teacher who ran her own School, she’s also the best-selling author of “Fix Your Life with NLP” (Simon & Schuster) and “Stop Bedwetting in 7 Days” which is recommended by NHS paediatricians.