Too bad the sandman exists only in fable. A quick sprinkle of his magic dust would make bedtime so much easier for parents, especially when stay-up-late summer gives way to the go-to-bed-early school year.
"Summer sleep patterns are understandably different from the rest of the year," says certified sleep consultant Krista Guenther, owner of Sleeperific in Kitchener, Ontario. "I recommend starting to phase in earlier wake-ups and earlier bedtimes about two weeks before school starts." That may mean, for instance, going from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. in 15-minute increments each night.
Sounds easy enough — except for the inevitable negotiations that just about every kid will employ. So give them a little leeway. Children are more likely to cooperate when they've been part of the decision making, Guenther says.
Older kids, for example, can decide on an appropriate bedtime with their parents. If they don't get up on time, then they agree to go to sleep earlier. Younger kids can be part of deciding the pre-bedtime routine. That means offering age-appropriate choices like putting on pajamas before or after brushing their teeth.
They can also be part of choosing their "quiet time" activity before bedtime — taking a bath, having a quiet chat about the day, reading a book or listening to soothing music.
"Choice in these smaller issues," Guenther says, "helps avoid power struggles about the greater bedtime issue."
In all cases, listen to your child's point of view, and clearly explain why the bedtime is appropriate for her age and sleep requirements, adds Deborah Watson, academic program manager for early childhood studies at Post University in Waterbury, Conn. An example: explaining the need for more sleep based on age-appropriate growth patterns for bones and muscles.
Sometimes the bedtime arguments are indicative of a deeper issue. Fran Walfish, a family therapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., says the negotiations can be stall tactics because kids face separation anxiety, particularly over a big transition like beginning a school year. Walfish says that knowing this, parents can choose to be sensitive and compassionate while listening to all the subterfuge. Just stick to the bedtime you've decreed.
"Do not lose your patience and get angry," Walfish says. "As irritating as he may be, (your child) is truly struggling with separation anxiety. The worst thing you can do before you say good night is fight with your child."
Parents also need to abandon their own struggles of the day, Guenther adds. "Take a few deep breaths or sit in a quiet room before helping your kids get ready for bed," she says. "Going into the situation with the right attitude can make all the difference.
"If bedtimes are consistently problematic or stressful, sit down and discuss how to improve the situation — away from bedtime. Encourage (your kids) to share their ideas as well. The focus isn't necessarily on the short term, but coming to a meaningful agreement that will be successful for days and weeks to come."
How to make them drowsy
Tips from sleep consultant Krista Guenther:
Find a routine that's comfortable for the child and parent. Repeat the routine as closely as possible every day. Bedtime battles will be kept at bay with a well-defined routine that's warm and comforting.
Avoid overstimulation and social interactions in the evening. Offer activities that allow your child to start winding down. Closer to bedtime, set the stage with lower lights, hushed tones, less physical activity.
Timing is key. Putting your child to bed drowsy (but not overtired) will provide the best opportunity to shift from a busy day to a restful night.
No electronic devices a half-hour before bedtime. No exceptions. Remove them from the room so kids can't sneak them under the covers.
— R.A.Copyright © 2015, CT Now