Children and Sleep: Establishing Good Sleep Habits

Establishing good sleep habits for your child

Sleep habits, both positive and negative, are established early in a child’s life, often in infancy, and parents play a key role in the process. For example, in order to help a baby stop crying, sometimes a parent will immediately pick up or feed a baby. After time, this may result in the baby becoming dependent on someone else to help him fall asleep. Then, as he ages, his inability to fall asleep by himself at night could escalate into behavioral tug of wars involving “another glass of water” or “just one more hug”, leaving all family members frustrated and exhausted in the end.

The key, of course, is to help your child establish good sleep habits early. Here are some suggestions.

  • Establish a schedule of the day’s main events, such as the same waking time, nap time, and meal times. Regular routines offer babies and young children comfort and security.
  • Vary your child’s daytime activities, making sure they are interesting and varied. Be sure to include physical activities and outdoor activities as much as possible.
  • Determine a simple bedtime routine that is well suited to your child, such as reading a book or talking for a few minutes about the day’s events.
  • Use light to your advantage. Dim lights or close blinds and curtains as bedtime approaches. In the morning, open blinds and curtains to let in bright, natural light. Light helps signal the brain into the correct sleep-wake cycle.
  • Give some time to determining your child’s ideal bedtime. For example, observe her over several evenings and note when she begins to slow down and act physically tired. That is the time she should be going to sleep, so plan to begin her bedtime routine prior to that time. If you wait beyond when she should be in bed, she may get a second wind, and that’s when the “tug of war” is apt to begin.
  • Establish bedtime as a special time. It should be a time to interact with your child in a way that is secure and loving, yet firm. Go through your bedtime routine together, then its lights out and time to go to sleep.

Check out the following resources to help make sure your child gets the sleep he or she needs:

  • Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep by William Sears
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
  • Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-in-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens by Judy A. Owens and Jodi A. Mindell

Have you established a bedtime routine? Do you know if your child is getting enough sleep?

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