Prevention & Recovery

How to get kids to sleep

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

How to get kids to sleep

New babies (birth to three months)
The problem: Frequent night awakenings. Although babies are born with PhD-level sleeping abilities, they lack falling asleep skills. The very strategies parents often rely on to encourage infants to doze off -- jiggling, suckling, car rides and lullabies -- soon become traps that cause them grief. If your baby doesn't learn how to self-start sleep at the "right" time, ineffective habits become etched in stone. If he falls asleep at the breast, for example, that's what he'll need. Sleep goes in cycles from light to deep sleep states approximately every 90 minutes, which means your baby is going to cry out repeatedly.

The most common mistake parents make: You assume Baby is waking up because he's hungry. This may be true for newborns, but it's usually not the case with older babies. When babies two months of age and older learn to doze off on their own, they sleep for longer stretches.

The solution: Many parents are reluctant to encourage their baby to pick up healthy sleep habits because they assume crying it out is involved. But when sleep coaching begins early and a baby is eased into good habits, no crying is involved. Starting around two months of age or older, encourage self-soothing skills, which are the tools a baby needs to nod off on her own. Put your baby in her crib sleepy, but still awake. If she fusses, comfort her, rub her tummy, talk to her, you can even pick her up and soothe her, as long as you put her back in the crib awake. Your baby will gradually learn to comfort herself to sleep.

Tricks of the Trade:
•A swaddled baby finds it easier to relax and fall asleep.
•A pacifier helps babies relax.
•White noise, such as a fan or humidifier, helps your baby block outside distractions, and this allows other calming techniques to kick in.
•Make sure your baby's tummy is full before you put her to bed for the night.
•Before you hit the sack, give her a "dream feed" or top up.
Bonus: Healthy babies who weigh more than 12 pounds can last nine hours without feeding.

Older babies(four to 12 months)
The problem: Your baby doesn't want the party to end. And most likely he hasn't discovered how to self-start sleep. Until he discovers his own self-soothing tools, he will continue to depend on you to help him fall asleep.

The most common mistake parents make: We wait for the problem to solve itself.

The solution:Your baby can learn to fall asleep independently. Here are three effective ways to sleep train him:
1. Stay in your baby's room and support him through the learning process without taking him out of his crib;
2. Step out of the room for increasing lengths of time until the little guy learns to doze off on his own; or
3. Stay out of the room and allow incrementally longer periods of crying until your baby dozes off on his own.

Tricks of the trade:
•Pick the sleep strategy that is best suited to your baby's needs. For instance, a sensitive baby may prefer to have you nearby, while a stubborn child may need you to step out of the room.
•Encourage him to use a transitional object such as a blanket or stuffed animal.
•Believe in your baby's ability to make positive changes.
•Be patient.
•Expect sleep habits to worsen before they improve.

Toddlers (one to two)
The problem: Toddlers have a tendency to sneak out of their room after a parent turns his back.

The most common mistake parents unwittingly make: When parents begin to work on a habit, they often expect overnight results. But kids aren't couriers. Real change happens slowly and gradually; sometimes things get worse before they get better. But if you hang in there, your toddler will soon relent and bedtime will become the fun and loving time it's meant to be.

The solution: There are two equally effective approaches: First, there's the "Oops, silly me, I forgot something … I'll be right back" approach. Sit by your toddler's bed and tell her a story. After a brief period say, "Oops, I forgot something … I'll be right back." Leave the room but return quickly. Gradually stretch the length of time it takes you to return. Your toddler will soon fall asleep while she's waiting.

Alternatively, there's the "back to bed" approach. After you put your little tiger to bed, sit outside her room. If she gets out of bed, use a neutral but firm voice and say, "Back to bed." Nothing more, nothing less. When there are no secondary gains in getting up (no yelling, hugs, kisses or second tuck-ins) your toddler will quickly settle down.

Tricks of the trade:
•Put your toddler to bed when she's tired, not wired. Unlike adults, kids often get hyper when they're overtired, and it's harder to settle down when you're all wound up.
•Follow the one-wish rule. After putting your tot to bed tell her, "You can have one wish before I go. Do you want another kiss? Something to drink? A trip to the bathroom?" Respect this rule and you won't get callbacks.

Click here to learn more about toddlers' sleeping habits.

Preschoolers(three to five)
The problem: Many preschoolers insist someone lie down with them to help them fall asleep. Sleep dependencies are often carried over from a younger age. Plus, new issues pop up seemingly overnight. For instance, a child may develop a fear after watching television and flatly refuse to go to bed without Mom or Dad by his side.

The solution: Gently wean your child out of the dependency by gradually removing yourself from the room. First, sit at the head of the bed until your little one falls asleep. The next night sit in the middle of the bed and slowly shuffle out of the room. This allows your child to adjust bit by bit.

Tricks of the trade:
•If your child complains she's afraid and wants you to lie down beside her, say something like, "I know you're afraid but I have confidence that you can deal with your fears. How about I check on you in five minutes?"
•Assume it will take about 10 days to wean yourself out of the room.

Click here for more information about helping children overcome their fears.

Young kids (six to nine)
The problem: Scary dreams. Nightmares are a part of growing up. They are the result of normal daytime emotional struggles, not underlying emotional problems.

The worst mistake parents unwittingly make: When a child wakes up from a bad dream, he wants to be comforted and to know that he's safe. But at the same time, you need to be careful not to start any habits you'll later regret, such as crawling into his bed to sleep with him or bringing him into your bed.

The solution: Give the little guy a big hug, and say good night again. If he resists, say, "How about I come back and check on you in a few minutes?" If nightmares are a frequent occurrence, try to determine what's on your child's mind. Then, use daytime to work on the issues that are causing him grief.

Tricks of the trade:
•Realize a child is 10 times more likely to have a nightmare than an adult.
•If your child is having frequent nightmares, plan ahead. Ask your child to pick a favourite memory and to think about this when he wakes up.
•Encourage transitional objects. They provide reassurance, support and a sense of connection in times of stress.

Older kids (10 and up)
The problem: Partial sleep arousal. Sleepwalking is a partial sleep arousal. In other words, a youngster may appear awake, her eyes may be open and she may move about, however, she's neither awake nor asleep. Sleep terrors and talking in your sleep are also due to partial arousals. Luckily, these generally occur in the early part of the night. Partial arousals occur in all age groups.

The most common mistake parents unwittingly make: Trying to wake a child who is sleepwalking or having a night terror. This can increase her agitation and may lead to injuries or make matters worse.

The solution: Don't try and wake your child; instead, talk to her quietly and calmly, and see if you can guide her back to bed. If your child doesn't react negatively to your touch, lead her back to bed. If your child is agitated when sleepwalking, it's best to hold back and refrain from intervening unless she's doing something dangerous.

Tricks of the trade:
•Make the environment as safe as possible. For instance, keep floors uncluttered and hallways well lit and put a bell on the child's door so you can hear if she leaves her room during the night.
•Ensure your child is getting adequate sleep because this will sometimes reduce partial arousals, especially when it comes to younger children.
•Have a chat with your health-care provider if wild thrashing and other dangers are present.

What to do when your best efforts fail
If your child's sleep habits don't improve, it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong, nor does it imply your child is difficult or a slow learner. Some of us -- including our little ones -- simply resist change more vigorously than others. If you're not seeing any improvements within a week, consider the following: Am I sending my child mixed signals? Is consistency a problem? How does my child eventually fall asleep? If answering these questions doesn't clarify the situation for you, seek an objective opinion from your health-care provider.



Dr. Cathryn Tobin is a trained midwife, pediatrician and mother of four. Her second book, The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan: The Soothing, Superfast Way to Help Your Newborn Sleep Through the Night (Wiley), is due out this summer.

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Prevention & Recovery

How to get kids to sleep

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