Of all the daily arguments in the home, bedtime flare-ups are one of the most common. Young children, in particular, are prone to meltdowns at this time – and let’s face it, late in the evening both tired parents and children are running low on patience and the capacity to cope. So many of us become more likely to snap and give vent to frustrations, convinced that our kids are doing their best to wind us up. From their point of view, they are not being ‘difficult’, they simply don’t feel the need to go to bed.
Establish a proper bedtime routine:
It helps to write out a timetable showing the exact time for tidying up, going upstairs, laying out school things, bathing, teeth brushing and reading a story, right up until ‘lights out’. Write the schedule on a large piece of paper and put it somewhere your child can see. If everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, there will be fewer arguments. Be consistent and do the same thing each night for at least a week and you’ll see things starting to change. If after a week of doing this you find you are still struggling to get your kids up to bed, start the routine earlier.
Dealing with bedtime anxiety:
It can be tempting to allow a child who’s nervous about going to sleep, (maybe because they’re afraid of the dark, or regularly suffer from nightmares or night terrors) to have a staggered bedtime routine with some time spent unwinding and snoozing on the downstairs sofa once they’re ready for bed, but this could be making your child’s problem worse. They’ll find it increasingly difficult to get into the habit of falling asleep independently and you’ll be forever stuck with them on the sofa. They need to learn how to lie in bed and fall asleep naturally. We’ve all fallen asleep in front of the TV before, only to wake up feeling disorientated and then we struggle to get to sleep when we do actually go to bed. It disrupts the pattern of our sleep cycle and if this regularly happens to your child it only add to your bedtime troubles.
Keep the bedroom tidy:
It’s not relaxing for a child to sleep in a room that has dirty clothes, toys, books and shoes strewn all over the floor. We all feel calmer in an uncluttered environment and the tidying up process can become an automatic part of the bedtime routine. It will signal the ‘end of the day’.
Is the room is too light?
It’s better to sleep in a dark environment because light and hormones dictate our sleep patterns. When light dims in the evening, we produce a chemical called melatonin, which gives the body clock its cue telling us it’s time to sleep. The sooner you can train your child to sleep in a dark room so much the better. Wean your child off night-lights as soon as you can by taking small steps to making the room darker each night, until you remove the light completely. And do make use of blackout blinds in those light summer evenings.
Avoid electronic gadgets:
Having items like mobile phones, laptops and iPods recharging near the bed is not a good idea, for the electro-magnetic field created by these stimulates the mind and will keep your child awake. And, if they’re awake in the small hours of the morning, the temptation to go on to social media and chat to friends will be too great if the phone is under the pillow. Likewise, it’s better not to have TVs and DVD players in the room; bedrooms are for sleepingand relaxing in. This may be tough for your child but it’s important for good health.
Create a ‘Worry Box’:
Too often the first opportunity to think about worries is at the end of the day, when our minds are starting to slow down. Don’t be surprised if your child starts blurting out their problems at bath time. This can leave some children ‘wound up’ just when you want them to be winding down. Encourage them to write each worry down on a piece of paper and put into a ‘Worry Box’. This can be an empty shoe box and your child can decorate it if they wish. Once the worrying thought is written down on a piece of paper, simply fold it up and pop it into the Worry Box, placing the lid firmly back on the box.
Psychological studies show that this works by tricking your mind into thinking that the worry has been dealt with. Let your child open their box once a week and look back to see how many of those ‘worries’ actually went away naturally or even needed to be have been worried about in the first place.
Alicia Eaton is a Behavioural and Emotional Wellbeing Specialist with a practice in London’s Harley Street. You can read more advice about dealing with children’s sleep issues in her book “Words that Work – How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything”.