You're past middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes, but a good night's sleep is still elusive. Maybe bedtime has turned into a battle of wills, or you're struggling to get your preschooler to stay in bed all night.
Consider these simple strategies to put the most common bedtime problems to rest — starting tonight!
The problem: Bedtime is chaotic
The scenario: You feel rushed when you put your child to bed.
The solution: Make bedtime a priority. A predictable, calming bedtime routine is often the key to a good night's sleep.
What the bedtime routine involves is up to you, but avoid active play and electronic devices, which might be too stimulating. You might give your child a bath, brush his or her teeth, read stories, and say prayers. Praise your child for a specific accomplishment or talk about the day. If you play bedtime music, make sure it's soothing. Then tuck your child into bed and say good night.
Experiment to find what works best for you — but once you settle on a routine, follow it consistently every night.
The problem: Your child doesn't want to go to bed
The scenario: It's bedtime, but your child wants to stay up.
The solution: If your child can hear talking, laughing, or sounds from electronics, it's easy to see how he or she would want to stay up. To ease the transition to bedtime, keep things quiet during the hour before bedtime. Put away mobile devices, video games and toys. Turn off the TV and any computers. Dim the lights. Limit the entire family to quiet activities, such as reading or doing puzzles. Sleep might be more appealing if everyone slows down before bedtime.
The problem: Your child won't fall asleep alone
The scenario: Your child needs you to stay in the room until he or she falls asleep.
The solution: To encourage your child to fall asleep alone, help him or her feel secure. Start with a calming bedtime routine. Then make sure your child has a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket. If your child is afraid of the dark, turn on a night light or leave the bedroom door open. Pretend to assign one of his or her stuffed animals the task of staying awake to keep the room safe and quiet.
If your child continues to resist, you might promise to check in every few minutes, increasing the interval between checks until he or she falls asleep. During these checks, praise your child for being quiet and staying in bed. Remember that you're helping your child learn to fall asleep alone. If you give in and climb into bed with your child, that's what your child will remember — and probably expect the next night.
The problem: Your child won't stay in his or her bed
The scenario: You put your child to bed, only to find him or her trailing you down the hall.
The solution: If your child regularly gets out of bed to ask for water or a stuffed animal, try to manage those needs ahead of time. When your child's bedtime routine is complete, remind your child that there's no reason to get out of bed. When your child gets up, promptly return him or her to bed — repeatedly, if necessary. Try not to stay in the room too long.
The problem: Your child stays up too late
The scenario: Your child's bedtime is 8:30 p.m., but by the time he or she is ready for bed it's usually past your bedtime.
The solution: If your child isn't tired at bedtime, you might be fighting a losing battle. Try scaling back daytime naps or rousing your child earlier in the morning. You can also put your child to bed a few minutes earlier every night until you're back to the original bedtime. Whatever time you put your child to bed, stick to a calming routine. Taking time to wind down might help your child fall asleep.
The problem: Your child wakes up during the night
The scenario: Your child wakes up during the night and won't fall asleep again without your help.
The solution: If your child wakes up and calls out to you during the night, give him or her a few minutes to settle down. If time doesn't do the trick, you might go to your child's room and offer reassurance. Then tell your child that it's time to sleep and leave the room. Wait longer each night to go to your child's side, until eventually your child falls back to sleep without your help.
If your child has a nightmare, however, respond quickly. Reassure him or her, talk about the dream and, when your child is ready, encourage sleep.
The problem: You're frustrated with your child's bedtime problems
The scenario: You're tired of the whining, so you give up and let your child fall asleep in front of the TV — or in your bed.
The solution: Bedtime battles can test a parent's resolve. Still, it's important to hang in there. Be patient and ignore cries and pleas.
It's never too late to teach your child good sleeping habits. If your child is pushing the limits, state your expectations and stick to the routine. Eventually, your consistency will pay off in a good night's sleep for everyone.