As a nursery school teacher, I’ve often heard parents lament about the difficulty of putting their child to bed. Many admitted that they allowed their child to stay up until they went to bed. All too often, the child would simply end up in the parent’s bed because it was the easiest way to get the child to sleep. Consequently, the child would be cranky and tired the following day because of an inadequate amount of sleep (preschool age children require at least 10 to12 hours of sleep each night). Parents also suffered from the lack of a good night’s sleep and began approaching each bedtime with dread.
Good sleeping habits should be developed early. Once an infant begins to sleep through the night, it is a good practice for parents to establish a regular bedtime—usually between 7 and 8 pm.
Children can transition from a crib to a bed (youth bed or a bed with a guard rail) when they are 18-24 months old. Parents often experience resistance to bedtime when the child is capable of climbing out of bed. Remember that your child is becoming more independent and the ability of climbing in and out of bed is a new and fun activity. Too often, parents initially find this behavior cute and adorable which only encourages the child to continue it.
It is important for parents to establish firm boundaries at this time in their child’s development. It sometimes helps to ease a child into bedtime by creating bedtime rituals. A warm bath followed by a quiet activity such as reading a story or singing softly can be helpful. Give your child a final sip of water and dim the lights. A favorite blanket or comfort toy can also ease a child into a bedtime routine. And finally rubbing a child’s back for a short time can help the child relax and fall asleep.
Occasionally you will have a child who wants to prolong the ritual by insisting you read “just one more book.” Establish from the very beginning how many books you will read and allow your child to pick the book(s). If your child asks for one more, be firm and suggest that you can read the book the following night. It is never a good idea to negotiate with young children. It will leave you frustrated and your child unhappy because young children are rarely able to keep their end of the bargain. The end result is a power struggle between parent and child.
Once you have established your routine, stick with it. If your child gets up and requests a drink or a snack, simply say “it is bedtime” and walk your child back to the bedroom. If your child continues to get up or cries, say nothing and quietly tuck your child back into bed. If you calmly repeat this process each time your child gets up, your child will eventually understand that you are in charge and there is nothing to be gained by constantly climbing out of bed. It may take a few nights but in the end your child will accept the boundaries you have set—Sweet Dreams and Laila Tov!