Children and parents both need good rest to make sure they're meeting the day with the best minds and attitudes. Lack of sleep can lead to less patience, attention and shorter tempers, so making sure you catch enough Z’s at night can mean having kids who behave better, focus better and parents who, well, parent with more patience. So what do you if your child shuns sleep?
There are eight easy things that every parent can do to get back to good nights (and days) in no time:
Figure out how much sleep your child should be getting. The amount of sleep your child needs each day varies depending on his age. The following guide can help you to determine whether or not he's getting enough shut-eye:
One year old: 13 hours Two years old: 12–15 hours (includes nap) Three years old: 11–14 hours (includes nap) Four years old: 10–13 hours (includes nap) Five years old: 10–12.5 hours (no nap)
If your child acts out, throws tantrums or has a tendency to meltdown in the early evening hours, then there’s a chance he isn't’t getting enough sleep. If he's under the age of four make sure that he takes a daytime nap on a regular schedule.
Stick to the schedule. Set a regular time for naps and bedtime and stick to it. By keeping it consistent, your child will know what to expect and his body's circadian rhythm will adjust to the sleep schedule you set. Keeping a strict sleep schedule is vital to getting more rest for both you and your child.
Plan your errands and day trips around naptime, and make sure that you stick to your night time schedule even on vacation. If your child knows that he can expect to sleep at the same time every day- no matter where you are or what you're doing, it will create better sleep habits.
Insist on “rest time” every afternoon. Young kids need to take a time-out to rest. Spend 30 minutes laying quietly with your child to encourage him to sleep. If he simply doesn’t sleep after you’ve tried to rest with him for 30 minutes then get out one of his books and continue the “rest time.”
It's important to ensure that your child has at least some quiet time each day. Some methods to create a quiet, calm atmosphere include dimming the lights, getting in bed and reading soothing stories. It will be a time to rest and recharge for the both of you.
Keep after-dinner playtime to a minimum. Too much activity close to bedtime can keep children from falling asleep. It’s okay to let them play before bedtime, but make sure any activities they participate in are of the calm and quiet variety. Puzzles, books or blocks are all great options for letting them relax.
Try sitting down to read a story or pulling up to the kitchen table with a coloring book and talk about your day together.
Make a night ritual of the bedtime routine. Having a bedtime routine is a great way for both you and your child to unwind each day. It's also a cue for him that bedtime is coming, so he'll know what to expect. Keeping the same routine also helps maintain consistency when you're not at home. This way, whether you're on vacation, spending the night at grandma’s, or leaving your child with a sitter for the night, the bedtime routine doesn’t change.
It’s never too early to start a bedtime routine. From the time a baby comes home from the hospital have a relaxing routine to set the tone for sleep. For example, every night could consist of bath time, pajamas and story time before turning out the lights. You can repeat a portion of this routine during the daytime for naps.
Keep the temperature just right. Small children have a harder time regulating their own body temperature and, babies especially, can have difficulty falling and staying asleep if they're too hot or too cold. Parents don’t often realize that the temperature of the room is keeping their kids from getting good sleep. And if your kids are in a bedroom that's a little cooler or warmer than the rest of the house, adjust their sleepwear accordingly. If your AC is on high in the middle of the summer, it’s okay to put your child in warm pajamas to keep him cozy through the night!
Set the sleeping mood. When children are trying to sleep even the tiniest distraction can keep them up. Any extra noise, light, or small discomfort can deter them from drifting off to dreamland. Make sure that your child’s sleep environment is snug, cozy, and dark. Invest in room darkening shades, a white noise machine, soft blankets, a nightlight—anything to make their sleep time more inviting.
For daytime naps and summer days where the light hangs around long past bedtime, make sure that you have a way to block light from entering your child’s room.
Be patient. The most important thing is that parents manage their expectations. When it comes down to it, you can’t force kids to sleep. All you can do is set them up for success. Make sure they get some sort of break during the day, and the rest will come. And remember that you're not alone. There are plenty of parents out there, including myself, who struggle to get their kids to sleep. Have patience, stick with it and you’ll both be having good nights and great days before you know it.
Kimberley is a national child development expert and a licensed family and child therapist specializing in working with children newborn to six years old.