Some of us are lucky enough to have children who settle well at bedtime and sleep through the night, so we can get that all important ‘me time’ and relax and unwind after our day. If you are one of the lucky ones, then that’s great.
But what about those who are not so fortunate? Some children just do not like bedtime, and they can turn it into a real nightmare for parents! Crying, clinging, feeling scared or anxious, refusing to go to bed. And it can prolong what may already have been a very stressful day, when we, as parents, need to get a rest and a break too. I heard a parent once say to a child who was refusing to go to bed saying that they just weren’t tired “It’s not about how tired you are: It’s about how tired you are making other people!”
Isn’t it funny how it always seems to be at bedtime that our children like to tell us every event or memory of what has happened that day, every unresolved issue that has cropped up in the past week, everything we should have said or done….. and why is it that they always seem hungrier at bedtime than they have throughout the rest of the day? It’s uncanny! But it is tactical!
And it doesn’t just happen in babies or toddlers! Refusing to go to bed or having trouble falling asleep really can create problems for school-age children including teenagers too. And it is important that once we see the first signs of this, we address the issue straight away, because it is so important for children to get enough sleep.
The NHS suggests children need this much:
· Toddlers 1 to 2 years old - 11 to 14 hours including naps
· Children 3 to 5 years old - 10 to 13 hours including naps
· Children 6 to 12 years old - 9 to 12 hours
· Teenagers 13 to 18 years old - 8 to 10 hours
Getting enough rest and sleep is critical for children. It is when the body repairs itself and when much of their development and growth occurs. Without enough sleep, they won’t be able to concentrate at school, so learning can be impaired. Lack of sleep can affect their mood. I know this myself from first-hand experience and you probably do too! But not getting enough sleep can also affect children’s development and even their immune systems, meaning that they are less able to fight off illness and infections.
So, why is it that children just won’t settle?
It might be a fear of missing out, or feeling lonely. They might be overtired, over excited or over stimulated. It could be that they are engaging in a power struggle with you. It can be attributed to certain foods or drinks. Perhaps they have had too much time on ‘screens’, phones, TV or electronic games. They may actually be hungry, afraid of the dark, or not cope well with transitions.
What can you do when your child just won’t settle?
Well, most things can be put right with a good bedroom set-up, consistent bedtime, and a good bedtime routine. Screens should be turned off 2 hours before bedtime. Last drinks at least 1 hour before bedtime (to stop the I need a wee syndrome), a good bedtime story and I like to use what I call the 7 C’s around the transition time itself.
The 7 C’s.
Make sure that your child has no cares or concerns but do this earlier in the evening - make sure there is nothing playing on their mind, perhaps do this at mealtime - not at bedtime.
Make the bedroom a comfortable, but not stimulating environment. Have a nightlight or leave a door open if the child needs this. Make sure they have a soft toy for comfort if they wish. Sometimes I use a mummy and child pair of soft toys and give the child the ‘mummy bear’ for them to look after and I take the ‘baby bear’ to look after. So, we know we are still connected.
Always spend time with your child at bedtime and connect with them, this helps them to feel safe, secure and loved.
Keep it quiet and calm and relaxed. Read soothing stories rather than exciting ones. Some children like to listen to calming music or may even fall asleep to a story CD.
Create a routine that is appropriate for the child. Routine is essential. Make it is the same each bedtime.
Give them a cuddle and a kiss before you leave. Then don’t return to them if they call you. You have said goodnight, they now need to learn to settle and self-soothe.
Stick to your guns. Be consistent. Don’t move the boundaries, change the rules or alter the routine.
If a child comes out of their room, quietly and calmly put them back, preferably without saying anything, except - it is bedtime.
Goodnight, means goodnight!