It was not long after the birth of my first child (probably about twelve hours!), that I realized I most likely would not sleep well again for at least the next eighteen years. Like many other new parents I had learned how exhausting being a parent was. And like many other parents I realized just how much I underestimated how tiring it would be. It’s even more so when you have a child who struggles with their sleep habits or has sleep conditions such as apnea or night terrors. So what should you do? Fortunately there are many ways in which you can help your child achieve a restful night’s sleep. Follow these top five parent tested tips so you can start to gain some zzzzzz’s before your child is in college.
1) Develop A Bedtime Routine – One of the best tried and true ways to help your child get a good night’s sleep is to develop a good routine that is age appropriate and suited to their habits. What do I mean by age appropriate? It is typical for a child’s habits and sleep patterns to change as they get older, just as they do with adults. Therefore, a good bedtime routine for a one year old may be quite different than that of a ten year old. For example, an infant’s bedtime routine may include a bottle, warm bath, and short story or lullaby. Whereas the routine for a ten year old may include an evening snack, journal writing or reading, a shower, and laying out their clothes for the next day. Your child’s routine should provide them with relaxing methods to help them easily transition into the evening hours.
2) Set Bedtime by Age – As children grow they require less sleep to be properly rested. Be sure that you are setting a suitable bedtime for your child’s age. For example, according to the National Sleep Foundation toddlers and preschoolers need eleven to fourteen hours of sleep per night whereas school aged children typically only need nine to eleven hours of sleep per night. Children who are too well rested or even children who are overly tired can have trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep. Make an effort to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, ensuring that they are both going to bed on time and waking at a proper time. Special events and emergencies may come up but ideally your child should be following a fairly regular bedtime schedule.
3) Limit Screen Time – There is a lot of debate over whether TV and computer time is actually beneficial to children. One thing is for certain. For most children, it is probably not the best pre-bedtime activity. It is very easy to lose track of time while watching TV or playing a game and this is probably a primary reason why many children don’t go to bed on time. If you do allow “screen” time before bed, it is wise to limit it to between thirty minutes and one hour and use a timer or alarm to signal the end of that block of time. Also the more educational the material on the screen the better it will be for your child. Have them play a game to reinforce math facts or read online about something that interests them like skateboarding or dinosaurs. They will learn something new while still also getting to do something that engages and excites them.
4) Get Outside – There is something extremely relaxing about a stroll in the evening. If weather permits take your child for an after dinner walk around the neighborhood or a local park like Reisterstown Regional Park or Hannah More Park in Reisterstown. For children who are young enough to be placed in strollers, the walk will provide them with fresh air and a change of scenery that will help to calm and soothe their tired bodies. This will do the same for older children in addition to giving them one last opportunity to expend their energy before bedtime. In addition, it is also a nice way for the family to bond and spend quality time together before the evening winds down.
5) Positive Reinforcement – When all else fails try a few positive reinforcement strategies. Again this will need to be age appropriate in order to work well. For example, younger children such as toddlers and preschoolers may respond well to a tracking chart that rewards them for demonstrating good behavior. For example, if they go to bed on time and stay in their bed all night for an extended period of time (week or month) then they can have an ice cream at The Cow in Reisterstown or lunch out at Chick-Fil-A in Owings Mills. In addition to a reward, your child will also have a sense of pride in accomplishing their goal which will hopefully help them to continue that positive behavior. Older children are typically motivated differently. Their incentive for going to bed and getting up on time may be something like staying up later on the weekend, extra TV or phone time, or a sleepover with their friends. For older children maintaining proper sleep habits is more about learning responsibility and developing healthy habits for your body and mind.
By following a few of these strategies, you should hopefully be well on your way to reclaiming your sleep – and your sanity!