Bedtime: getting them settled

Parenting columnist Ian Munro with some tips on getting children to bed.

The 4-year-old in our family is being troublesome at bedtime. Like many children, he has a problem making that transition from wakefulness to sleep; from contact with others to aloneness.

It's something that challenges most parents at one time or another.

Here are some ideas that might help stop bedtime becoming a nightmare.

• Avoid sugary drinks or food after dinner. However, a pre-bedtime protein snack or some calcium by way of cheese or milk half an hour before tucking down can have a calming sleep-inducing effect.

• No television immediately before bed to avoid the blue light effect and the taking of stimulating or unpleasant images with them into their sleep.

• Develop a peaceful bedtime routine. Maybe a bath or shower, toilet and teeth-cleaning routine followed by a piggyback or hand-holding walk to the bedroom and then a read-aloud, even to youngsters old enough to read themselves. Indicate at the start how much will be read and stick to it.

• Talk over the day's events for a set five minutes. Find the positives.

• Then a cuddle and perhaps a final song or prayer that consistently marks the end of the attention. The benefits of five minutes' attention before a child goes to sleep far outweigh the time it takes.

• A warm bath and a firm foot massage or gentle rocking should calm most overtired or overactive children.

• A night-light in a hallway power socket reassures those anxious about the dark. Generally speaking, children aren't afraid of the dark unless someone suggests that they might be. If you say there are no monsters under the bed and then look, well it must be a possibility.

• Don't make the mistake of agreeing to stay until they go to sleep. Promise to look in after 10 minutes, but if you get sidetracked and don't return you may have problems.

• For half an hour after their bedtime avoid any noisy, interesting activities that might make them think they're missing out on something. If they emerge take them quietly and unsmilingly by the hand back to bed without a word. Even a growl is attention. Be totally impassive. It may take a while to work but be persistent and consistent.

• For nightmares give a cuddle and reassurance that they're safe and perhaps next day an explanation that, while dreams may seem real and can sometimes be scary, when you wake up they disappear.

• Night terrors in which the child is screaming and tossing while still asleep can be more terrifying for a startled-awake parent. Calmly and gently shake the child awake, soothe and let fall asleep again. Most often the child will not remember the event. But you may be awake for awhile!


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