10 Ways to Solve the Preschool Bedtime Battle

10 Ways to Solve the Preschool Bedtime Battle

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Updated on May 7, 2009

Dealing with a preschooler’s endless requests for one more drink of water, one more hug, and one last episode of Sponge Bob before bedtime is enough to drive any parent crazy. Bedtime is one of the few things in life young children can control – and they’re going to milk it for all it’s worth. But the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that preschool age children get 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night for healthy growth and development. When a child doesn’t get enough shuteye, it can lead to behavior problems, irritability, weakened immune system, moodiness, trouble concentrating, shortened attention span, clumsiness, tantrums, and hyperactivity.

Getting a preschooler to bed is important for both his health and his parent's sanity. Here are 10 tips to help you solve the bedtime struggle with your child, so he can sleep soundly through the night.

  1. Routines Work. Nighttime routines are important, as they give kids a sense of security and let them know what to expect next. Over time, a solid routine can reduce power struggles and make a child more cooperative during bedtime. A good routine is all about rhythm, so don’t be afraid to tweak until you find one that works for your child.  
  2. Short and Sweet. “Naps are an essential part of a preschooler’s day. And if you eliminate them you run the risk of having a cranky kid on your hands,” says daycare owner and operator Camilla Brown. “Young children need daily naps until they reach the age of five.” However, if your youngster is not sleepy when bedtime arrives, shorten his naps by about 30 minutes.
  3. Let's Get Physical. Kids should get one hour of exercise every day (not too close to bedtime). Daily physical activity can help youngsters rest better during the night because it improves their overall health, burns excess energy, relieves stress, and boosts their immune systems.
  4. I’m Warning You. Give your child a five minute heads-up before it’s time to get ready for bed. This allows him the opportunity to finish anything he’s doing and mentally prepare to hit the hay. Begin your child’s nighttime routine one hour before his established bedtime so he can have enough time to brush his teeth, bathe, get into his pajamas, and listen to a story.
  5. Snack, Please. If dinner is served at 5:00 p.m. and your child’s bedtime is at 9:00 p.m., give him a small snack such as a graham cracker and a glass of milk before he brushes his teeth to keep him from waking up hungry during the night.  
  6. Just Say “No” to Caffeine. Typically, parents don’t mind giving a child a small sip of tea, hot cocoa, or cola. But products such as these contain caffeine and can cause sleeplessness, so they should be avoided before bedtime. 
  7. Calm Down.  Pre-bedtime activities should be calm and quiet. High energy activities such as sports or dancing, as well as the sensory stimulation of television or loud music immediately before bedtime can interfere with a child’s ability to wind down, which makes it more difficult for him to nod off. Some appropriate nighttime activities include playing with play-dough, blocks, books, and puzzles.
  8. Offer Rewards. Children love to be rewarded for their good works. So every night after your preschooler completes all of his bedtime tasks, let him put a sticker on a chart. At week’s end, reward him with something simple such as a new set of stickers or a coloring book.
  9. Optimize Bedroom for Sleep. Television sets and video games in your child’s bedroom can distract from the room's intended purpose – to get a good night’s rest. So keep these items out of your child’s sleeping area. The temperature should be comfortable, and the sound of soothing music or white noise in the background such as the hum of a fan or air purifier can gently lull your child to sleep.
  10. Banish Bedtime Monsters. The fear of monsters under the bed is real for many children. And since monsters (in a child’s mind) only lurk in dark places, don’t disregard your youngster’s fears by forcing him to sleep in a pitch-black room. Instead, offer plenty of reassurances, keep a nightlight on, and leave the bedroom door cracked until your child falls asleep. “Don’t add to your child’s fear of the bogeyman by reading him spooky stories or letting him to watch scary things on television,” says retired pre-kindergarten teacher Tricia Young. In addition, let your child to sleep with one security item such as a favorite blanket, doll, or teddy bear to help him feel more secure.

Getting youngsters to willingly go to bed can put the most patient parent to the test. But if you establish a solid routine, avoid stimulants, keep nighttime monsters at bay, and follow the rest of these tips, your child can get the sleep he needs to grow healthy and strong.

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