Here comes 2011, folks, and the new year is a great time to take stock of the family’s sleep habits. We tend to think of babies as the ones who need sleep help, but if you have little kids in the house, you know they’re just as tricky sometimes.
By two or three, our little night owls have brilliant skills for haggling and stalling before bedtime. They could be switching from crib to big bed, and things like nightmares and dropping daytime naps are known to throw things off course.
If that sounds familiar, the new year might be just the right time to take a new approach to sleep – switch up your game a bit. Here are 5 tips to help your kid sleep better in 2011:
1. Check your bedtime. Up to 5 years old, kids still need 11-12 hours of total sleep in a 24 hour period. The best way to ensure this happens is with an early bedtime, between 7 and 8 p.m. (because most kids are early risers). Keep it consistent, because your child’s body learns the natural rhythm of the day this way. Avoid naps that go past 3:30 or 4 p.m.
2. Tighten up your routine. By age 2.5, if your child hasn’t discovered the art of haggling at bedtime, it’s sure to be coming soon. Another sip of water, a different song, a specific configuration of stuffed animals – you know what I’m talking about. Decide on a set routine: 3 books, teeth, lights out, 2 songs, a sip of water (by the bed already), a big kiss, and then mom or dad walks out.
3. If your child follows you out of the room, walk her back and say something simple like, “It’s time for sleeping.” Don’t talk too much, just repeat a minimal phrase – it might take 30 times the first night.
4. Consider flipping the walk-out dynamic by saying, “If you stay in your bed, I’ll be back in 5 minutes to check on you.” This breaks the cycle of you leaving and your child walking out to the living room to find you. If your child stays in bed for the full 5 minutes (you can cheat the first few times and go in after less time to give them the idea) go in, say something comforting but simple, and leave the room — you want your child to trust the plan.
5. No matter what you decide to do, include your child in the plan. After age 2 or so, kids understand so much, it’s important to tell them exactly what you’re going to do. Say something like, “We’re going to try something new this week,” or, “I’m going to do things differently starting tonight to help you sleep better,” to set their expectations. Explain exactly how the new system works: “I’ll read two books, sing one song, and put a cup of water by your bed. If you stay in your room for five minutes, I’ll be back to check on you.”
If your child is having nightmares, come up with a way to help him sooth and comfort himself in the middle of the night while staying in his bed. For some kids, telling them that flipping over the pillow “changes the channel on the dream” or making a “dream catcher” to hang over the bed will help them feel empowered against the boogieman after dark.
Do you have any other tips for helping kids sleep? Please share!