Managing Bedtime and Sleeping Problems

Families often have problems getting a child to go to bed. Some children may cry and fuss at bedtime. Others awaken at night and cry. Still others get into their parents’ bed to sleep.

In order to avoid habits that will be difficult to break later, establish a bedtime routine and try to stick to it each night. This may include a quiet time, bathroom, drinking, bedtime story and kisses so that the child can wind down before actually being put into bed.

After he is in bed, tell him good night, and that you will see him in the morning. Turn off the light and leave the room. You need not close the door but be sure that he cannot see into the part of the house that is active, busy or noisy.

Do not go back into the room. He may cry for quite a while but going back only teaches the child to cry. After a few nights of consistently not going back, the child will stop crying and will learn to put himself to sleep. These nights of crying are especially difficult for parents. Some children will cry for hours for the first few nights but the child will soon learn to fall asleep.  This is a skill your child needs to acquire just like talking or walking.  Remind yourself that your child will grow and develop at his best with an uninterrupted night of sleep and you are doing this for his benefit.

Most children over 6 months old can sleep through the night (8 hours) without feeding. If the child awakens to fuss, cry or feed, it is not helpful to get in the habit of going in, feeding him, or giving other kinds of attention. This will establish a pattern of nighttime feeding. To break this habit, gradually decrease the attention and time you spend with him when he wakes and cries. If your habit is to pick him up, hold and hug him, talk to him and give him a bottle, continue this but give him an ounce or two rather than a full feeding for a few nights; then just hold and talk to him without the bottle but with a toy animal; next, sit close to the crib with your hand on him without picking him up; finally just sit beside the crib without touching or talking to him. You will soon find that he won’t need you there at all.

Remember that transitional objects (stuffed animals, toys and blankets as opposed to a bottle) are very helpful in making a child feel safe and calm and help him fall asleep on his own. These should only be used, however, after the 1st birthday since they increase the risk for SIDS in infants.

Electronics should be off well before (at least 30 minutes, but ideally at least 60 minutes) the bedtime routine starts.

Get electronics such as cell phones, TVs, DVD players, desktop computers, laptops and tablets, iTouch’s and i-Anything out of the bedroom; even if they are not on, knowing that they’re there can be stimulating to a child’s brain.

While a sick child may be uncomfortable and thereby awaken and need attention at night as soon as the illness has passed it is important to reestablish a routine for sleeping through the night without the attention or feeding.