Bedtime and Sleep Habits

Bedtime and children's sleep habits can cause nightmares - for parents, that is! Often at the end of a long day all you want is a little peace and time for yourself. After all, you have probably devoted the entire to the service of children in some form.

Whether it is putting bread on the table or being gainfully employed in an unpaid position as housekeeper and cook, you deserve a break.

Come on, kids, be reasonable!

But children do not always see bed-time from a parent's perspective. They often dispute calls for bed and complain loudly that it is too early.

None of the other kids at school go to bed at 8 o'clock, Mum. "It's not fair." is the sort of line that is used in thousands of homes each night.

Others procrastinate with toilet-time, last minute drinks and detailed arrangements of teddies so that bed-time stretches by half an hour before parents realise what is happening.

Some parents are plagued by jack-in-the-boxes who reappear as soon as the bedroom light is turned off while others have night-callers who keep parents busy with comments such as: "I can't get to sleep."

If bed-time presents difficulties in your home try the following ideas at kids' bed-time so that you can maximise the time you have for yourself and your partner.

Decide on a time with your child then stick to it. There are no hard and fast rules about appropriate bed-times for children. However they should suit both parent and child. Discuss appropriate bed-times with children. Some youngsters fail to see that sleep is a biological need. They see it as something imposed on them by parents. I am constantly amazed how reasonable children can be when they have had the chance to participate in the decision-making process.

Establish a bed-time routine well in advance that signals the end of the day. A known routine such as quiet time, drink, toilet and story lets children know what is expected of them and enables them to plan accordingly.

Reduce over-stimulation before bed-time by ensuring children are engaged in passive activities such as homework, reading or watching television.

Distinguish between being in bed and being in the bedroom. Children differ in the amount of sleep that they need. It is pointless to expect them to be in bed at a certain time each night and go to sleep. It is more realistic to be in their bedrooms at a set time. They can then regulate their behaviour. Once away from the adult world children generally fall asleep fairly quickly. Young children may remain on their beds surrounded by a favourite toy or books to keep them occupied before they fall asleep.

Be firm with procrastinators at bedtime. Resist children's efforts to involve you in calls for drinks or assistance with forgotten homework at bed-time. Once in bed ignore their calling out and demonstrate that you are unwilling to participate in their games.

One parent I know begins reading a bed-time story whether her child is in bed or not. As her daughter treasures her story this is generally enough to have her rushing to bed.

Temporarily remove distractions at bed-time. Sometimes turning off the television can be enough to send children to bed.

Avoid sitting with young children until they fall asleep. This may be all right once in a while but habits are easily formed and often difficult to break. Many parents who sit with young children until they drop off discover that they have made a rod for their own backs.

Ignore or return boomerangs to their rooms and give them a minimum attention. Children will generally tire of being jack-in-the-boxes when they get little feed-back for the behaviour. If you have an extremely persistent boomerang then you may have to steel yourself for several nights. Be persistent and give little feed-back to them.

Bed-time with adolescence needs to be negotiated. They are generally capable of regulating their own sleep however it may be necessary to remind them your need for some time alone.

Impress upon children that night are yours and extremely precious. Short of a nightmare or an earthquake, you do not wish to be disturbed.

Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.

For further ideas to help you raise happy children and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids newsletter and receive a free report Seven ways to beat sibling rivalry.

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