Just when you think your sweet baby has the hang of sleeping
through the night-boom-she turns into a 3-year-old sleeping
monster. Or an adolescent night terror. Or a tween-aged zombie.
Whatever the age and whatever the issue, getting your kids
to sleep, and sleep well, never is easy. Plus, it's extremely
tiring. So we went to the experts to help us tackle sleep issues
for toddlers, adolescents and tweens because parental sleep
deprivation isn't just for the newbies.
Issue: My baby was a great sleeper and now my
toddler is a screaming nighttime terror!
I've always believed in tough love when it comes to sleep
training my boys. I let them cry it out, and as a result, they
slept through the night starting at four months. Now, however, the
youngest, almost 3, is a sleep monster: Screaming at bedtime and
naptime and waking in the middle of the night like a
Here's what the expert says:
"Many kids who have sleep problems have parenting
problems, and there is an issue of control that bleeds over into
sleep time," says Dr. Harvey Karp, renowned pediatrician and author
of the new book, The Happiest Baby Guide to Great
Sleep. "Sometimes if you're too strict during the day
or not enough, the kids can rebel at night."
Remedy this by creating a star or sticker chart or even
using-and you won't believe it-poker chips to reinforce good sleep
behavior, Karp says.
"One of the beauty of star and sticker charts is that it
gives kids encouragement of good behavior," Karp says. "But don't
make the chart just about sleep because it puts too much emphasis
on the sleep issue. Incorporate other behaviors you want to change
When using poker chips or cards for 3- to 5-year-olds with
sleep problems, kids can use the cards as "payment" to have you
come and check on them in the middle of the night, Karp says. When
the cards or chips run out, well, the kid is out of
"Poker chips and cards give toddlers a choice and
something tangible to make a finer decision," Karp says. "Then they
can decide in the middle of the night what they really
Issue: My 6-year-old still sucks his thumb and
still has a security blanket at night. Help!
Laura Sawyer Dhokai's son Lincoln, now 6, was a
thumb-sucker even in utero and has had a blankie since birth. After
a warning from a dentist that he couldn't suck his thumb when his
adult teeth grew in, Dhokai and Lincoln came up with a plan
involving Band-Aids on thumbs to prevent sucking and prizes for
giving up both the blankie and thumbs.
Here's what the experts say:
Dr. Kevin Boyd, a pediatric dentist in Lincoln Park and
part of the Sleep Medicine team at Lurie Children's Hospital of
Chicago, is an expert on how children's mouths develop and how that
affects sleep, and ultimately, behavior.
"If the teeth stick out from thumb sucking, it affects the
shape of the palette," Boyd says. "Dhokai is right-a reward system
shows you are paying attention and can be very
What some parents may not know, however, is that palette
formation and the way the child's mouth closes, or fails to close
from thumb sucking, may interfere greatly with sleep and
"According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics,
children who snore and mouth-breathe can be more susceptible to ADD
and ADHD," Boyd says. "We have a real opportunity to change soft
spots in the mouth that contribute to adolescent and adult sleep
So while thumb-sucking is a no-no, sleep consultant Janeen
Hayward of Swell Being says blankies are OK for comforting little
ones in times of distress.
"Blankies should be reserved for sleep, doctors' offices
or a place the child needs soothing," Hayward says. "But
otherwise I'd restrict blankies to the crib so that the child knows
the blankie is reserved for sleep."
Interestingly, Karp encourages those props instead of
thumb-sucking and sees some children take their first blankies all
the way to college.
"Blankies are good friends, sometimes the child's first
`friend,'" Karp says. "I see no reason for kids to give up
blankies or teddy bears as support tools. I love them."
Issue: My tween will not go to bed or stay in bed
and I know she needs the rest. I want to help her, but
Cindy Rudman's daughter Natalie, 11, was never a great
sleeper and has always been an early riser, but somewhere along the
line, her going-to-bed routine went off the rails. She needed
multiple trips to the bathroom, extra goodnight kisses and closing
the door just the right way and complained because she could not
"First thing I ask parents is if the tween-age child has
had any caffeine or a soda or a sweet with dinner," says Dr.
Kenneth Lyons, pediatrician at Children's Healthcare Associates in
Lakeview. "Caffeine in kids is public enemy number one when it
comes to sleep."
If that's not the problem, Lyons suggests 20 minutes of
"dead time" right before bedtime that is not TV
"You've got to rev those neurons down before you can get
them to sleep," Lyons says.
"Create a bedtime routine that doesn't include a device
with an LCD screen," Hayward says. "Anything with an LCD
screen suppresses production of melatonin and sleep."
Hayward also says people often underestimate the amount of
sleep a tween or teen needs-as much as 9.5 hours a night-and that
even 15 more minutes of sleep a night helps a child's executive
Karp, an avid supporter of white noise for good newborn
sleep, sees great benefits for tweens as well.
"White noise cues tweens to not be disturbed and it also
covers intrusive thoughts an older child might have," Karp
However, sometimes with older kids, sleep is just a power
struggle. If that's the case, Karp suggests figuring out ways to
diffuse the conflict.
"I give them more choices, options and family meetings to
discuss the problems," he says. "I like figuring out a way to
compromise and work creatively with the child. Don't wag the finger
Sara Fisher is a mother of two living in Roscoe Village. She also blogs at selfmademom.net.
See more of Sara's stories here.
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