Few issues cause more anxiety for parents than sleep. From birth, we obsess about when our kids sleep, how long they sleep and if they are getting enough sleep.
Finding the right bedtime for your children can be a struggle, but with a little patience and trial-and-error your kids will be fast asleep.
1 Start from birth. "Bedtime training starts from birth, even though babies have a different pattern of sleeping and waking," says Dr. Faith Myers of the Pediatric Wellness Center in Lemont.
Babies wake up throughout the night, but keeping interaction to a minimum can teach your baby that it’s time for sleep, not play. Myers suggests feeding the baby and putting him back to sleep—no playing in the middle of the night.
2 Drop the morning nap. Parents dread the end of the morning nap, but it’s bound to happen. "When your child gives up the morning nap, keep the bedtime consistent," says Myers, who is also on staff at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. This change means your child is simply growing and possibly needing less sleep. Lucky parents will see the afternoon nap extend.
3 Drop all naps. The time comes when all naps are abolished, usually by the age of 3 or 4. At this time, you may want to reconsider the time she goes to bed. Try putting your daughter to bed an hour earlier than normal to help her get the same amount of sleep. It may take a few nights to find out if the new bedtime works.
4 Keep a schedule. Many children need the reassurance of a regular schedule and your child’s bedtime is no exception. Nicole Yaniz swears by the schedule she keeps for her 1-year-old twins, Analia and Antonio.
"My biggest advice is schedule, schedule, schedule," says this New Lenox mom. "My kids go to bed between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. I think if I am consistent, they will be able to keep this bedtime."
5 Be flexible. An occasional late night, especially on a weekend, never hurt anyone. If you’re lucky and your child can sleep in, she may make up the difference herself. Be aware, though, that many kids act out the next day from sheer exhaustion. Know your kids and keep them up at your own peril.
6 Stand your ground. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to get the kids in bed. Most nights I want my 5-year-old Tessa asleep by 8 p.m., but inevitably she sidetracks me with requests for water, another trip to the bathroom or some good old whining and before I know it, we’ve hit 9 p.m.
But if I stick to the rules and don’t allow her to extend her bedtime, she will be in bed and sleeping within minutes.
7 Consider the seasons. In the summer months, the sun is out longer and the kids beg to stay up later. Is it wrong to allow them a little more freedom during the summer?
"It’s a personal decision," Myers says, "but unless the child needs to get up early, it can’t hurt to let older kids stay up a bit later. But if your child regularly attends day care, parents might consider keeping sleep patterns the same."
On the flip side, during the winter, it might be easier to institute an earlier bedtime, especially for children who can’t tell time yet. My daughter was happy to go to bed at 7 p.m. in the winter without altering her wake up time.
8 Set limits. Preteens might not physically fight bedtime like their younger siblings, but they probably want to stay up later, too. Teach them healthy sleep skills by setting a "bedroom" time instead of a bedtime. Choose an appropriate time, 8:30 p.m. for example, and explain that he must be in his room, ready for bed. Give him half an hour to read or play quietly. Not only will he learn some time management skills, but he’ll have a chance to manage his time independently.
9 Later bedtime for older kids. "When kids get older, they biologically need less sleep," Myers says.
An 8-year-old, for example, needs about two hours less sleep than a 2-year-old. Be aware that as your son ages, he might ask for a later bedtime. Check your son’s wake-up time for school and make sure he can still get around nine hours of sleep each night, in contrast to the 11 or 12 hours your toddler needs.
10 Listen to your children. At the end of the day, you need to pay attention to your children and their behavior. If they seem irritable every day or fall asleep during normal activities like watching TV or riding in the car, you might want to re-evaluate their bedtime.
Each child’s needs are different. Your three kids may all require different amounts of sleep, so putting them all to bed at the same time might not be the best move. Evaluate the unspoken signals your children send and react accordingly.
Like most aspects of parenting, finding the right bedtime isn’t an exact science. But with a little patience and love, you’ll figure out what works best for your family.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook who has finally found the perfect bedtime for her kids—for now.