By M. GARY NEUMAN
It is the modern day parenting problem: kids who do not go to bed, in spite of parent’s best efforts. It’s a hot topic on parenting websites and in regular conversation. It should be noted that when dealing with a newborn or an infant who does not yet have real awareness, parents may want to respond quickly to soothe, feed and comfort. In The World Until Yesterday
, the anthropologist Jared Diamond notes that in even the most independent and stoic hunter societies, infants are soothed and
carried within seconds of their cries.
However, when a child is older and there is no illness or psychological distress to actively address (ie: night terrors, true fear from nightmares,) it is imperative to create a home life that allows parents to sleep for their own mental and physical well being.
So here are the five secrets to sleeping kids, inspired by our own observations and the tried and true experiences of raising five children born within seven years:
1. Set a reasonable bedtime and eliminate napping. When our kids were around two years old we had to eliminate afternoon naps or they simply wouldn’t sleep until midnight. We did everything to keep the kids up and it made for comical stories.
“Remember the time we couldn’t find one of the twins because he was hiding under a blanket in the closet to nap?” But by bedtime they were tired and our diligence in the afternoon paid off with a nice evening. While you are eliminating the afternoon nap, avoid big social situations and prepare for some cranky tempers. Be patient and have treats ready.
2. Place children in water. Bath time is a good way to have kids wind down and it promotes sleep. It goes without saying that the hours leading up to bath time should be preceded by some time outdoors such as the park or other activity.
3. Set a routine. Kids love routines because it makes the world a predictable and secure place. Have a set routine such as brushing teeth, reading a story, winding down etc. Try to avoid allowing the kids to use ipads or other electronics before bed as studies show it interferes with sleep. Additionally, dim the lights and the television noise in the house prior to bedtime as it helps kids be calm and signals bedtime.
When the children are finally in their beds, sit where they can see you and read your own book, answer emails or relax. Avoid the noise of a phone conversation. Kids should have a cup of water by their bed. Further explain to them that you will stay there but are not conversing. If they get out of bed, lead them back without comment or conversation. Don’t threaten, negotiate, or plead. Just simply walk them back to bed.
4. Timing for Bedtime. It may sound like common sense but make sure bedtime is not too early or too late. Consult a pediatrician or other parents in the area and coordinate bedtimes so that kids are not overly stimulated (11 pm) or simply not tired (5 p.m.)
5. Set expectations. Say to your children, “In our family we____so that we___” When children are told that this is what we do and there is a system in place, they adapt. Often parents try to be fun or spontaneous if they viewed their own parents as rigid (it’s bedtime but let’s go out to the movies again!). Sometimes work or other demands create tension and it just seems easier to let the kids fall asleep in front of the television when they’re ready or come into your room every single night. Honestly explore the reasons you are ambivalent about this area. See bedtime as the important routine kids need since it is actually a question of everyone’s health.
Sleep is no less important than nutrition or sunlight for growing healthy kids, not to mention rested and happy parents!
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M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”