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By the time children are five or six years of age, most of the sleep problems of early childhood have all but vanished. Unfortunately, it's often more difficult to get them into bed at a decent hour. Your child may not complain if she doesn't get a good night's sleep, but you will-when your child stays up late, you're up late, too, and you lose your private time.
When parents aren't consistent about bedtime, kids stay up as long as they can. They don't yet recognize how important sleep is to their wellbeing, so parents have to take responsibility for ensuring that their children get adequate sleep. Be firm. Resist entreaties for "one more show." Avoid rewarding your child with a later bedtime as a special treat.
Sleep is vital to your child's good health and ability to learn. A child who gets adequate sleep is more alert, better able to learn, less accidentprone, and more cheerful. After the initial drowsy period, the normal sleep pattern alternates between two states: deep, or delta-wave, sleep, and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. During the night, REM sleep periods (during which we dream) follow the non-REm periods, occur from three to six times, and range from five to twenty minutes in length. Inadequate sleep of both types can be detrimental to the immune system and make a child more susceptible to colds and disease.
Why do kids resist going to sleep? One reason may be that, alone in the dark, children confront their fears. To push this confrontation away, kids choose bedtime to pick a major battle with a sibling. Or they stall by requesting glasses of water. They ask you to check the closet for monsters and under the bed for goblins, when really it's their inner fears they want you to keep in check.
Bedtime may seem like the right time to sit by your child in bed to discuss his concerns, but your child is usually too tired to solve problems. A child may choose to mention at bedtime an important issue that has been troubling him, just because that's when he remembers it and it frightens him. Your appearance at his side to say good night may be the first time he's had you to himself You might choose to talk with him for a bit to resolve the problem. But if you let bedtime discussions about problems become part of your child's evening routine, you could be establishing a habit. Make sure you spend time with your child during the day to discuss anything that might worry him.
For a younger child, limit the bedtime routine to a bath, a story, and a goodnight kiss. An older child may choose to read in bed for another 15 minutes. The whole bedtime routine should last no longer than half an hour. Then lights out.
Six-year-olds need about 11 hours of sleep, which will decrease to 9 or 10 hours by the time they turn twelve. However, as with adults, children's individual sleep needs vary. Watch your child first thing in the morning. You'll know he's getting enough sleep if he awakes feeling refreshed. If he's hard to wake in the morning, or if he's nodding into his cereal bowl at the breakfitst table, he isn't getting enough sleep.
During the day, your child may not act sleepy even if he is. Some overtired children appear hyperactive or "wired." Chronically tired kids can be impulsive, with emotions swinging from one extreme to another. If your child is overtired, move his bedtime back about 15 minutes every few nights until he begins to wake up feeling refreshed.
This can be difficult to accomplish, however. Kids associate a late bedtime with your acknowledgment of their maturity. At school, they may even brag about being able to stay up until 9:30 p.m. But remember, you set the time for lights out. Stand firm through the tears, but be willing to accommodate your child's concerns. If an earlier bedtime means that your child will miss a favourite Tv program, offer to tape it so that he can watch it after school the next day.
The irritability that can come after a late night is easily cured by an earlier bedtime the next evening. The extra sleep doestA have to equal the time lost. It can be less, but strive to pay down the sleep debt as soon as possible. Once your child starts having sleepovers, let her know that she needs to make up for a late night with more sleep the next night.
Anticipate sleep problems at times of change before your child goes away to camp, after the birth of a new sibling, when a parent falls ill. Another time your child may experience sleep disturbances is when he's overtired. You might expect an exhausted child to sleep like a log, but exhaustion can contribute to a propensity to sleepwalk or experience a night terror.
If your child's sleep difficulties are frequent or intense, discuss them with his physician. For information on sleep problems, consult Sleep/Wake Disorders Canada.
Bedwetting can be a tough problem for school-age kids. The Canadian Sleep Society reports that 1 in 10 six-year-olds and 1 in 20 ten-year-olds has problems staying dry consistently at night. For the older child, bedwetting is a threat to self-esteem. The erroneous expectation is that big kids don't wet the bed. But when theyre invited to sleepovers or their group attends an overnight camp, these older kids can't hide their "little secret." Most often, bedwetting is caused by a developmental lag. The part of the nervous system controlling your child's bladder may be slow to mature. Over time, as the nervous system matures, the problem simply disappears.
If an older child suddenly starts to wet the bed, it may be because of a urinary-tract infection. Check it out with your family doctor, because generalized anxiety can also cause bedwetting.
All children have occasional nightmares, but frequent nightmares are uncommon between ages seven and eleven. Nightmares usually reflect emotional conflicts and struggles. If your child is having frequent nightmares, work with him during the day to solve his problems.
Virtually all dreaming occurs during REM sleep. While you're dreaming, you dorA call out. A child's crying and calling out occur after a bad dream when the child is awake. Attend to her quickly. She needs your full assurance because she is genuinely frightened. Be supportive in a firm way that shows that you, not the monster in her nightmare, are in control.
It's 10:00 p.m. and your child has been asleep since 8 o'clock. Suddenly her scream pierces the night. That's a night terror, experienced as the child partially awakens from a deep sleep cycle. DorA be alarmed; night terrors are very common in children. The Canadian Sleep Society reports that night terrors peak between the ages of four and twelve. Extreme fatigue or sleep deprivation can contribute to their occurrence.
Night terrors usually occur one to four hours after falling asleep. Your child may sit up, grind her teeth, and open her eyes, seeming to look through you rather than at you. After a few minutes, she'll lie back down and go back to a full sleep.
Or your child may screech, appear frightened, run around the room, or frantically try to leave the house. Usually you catA wake the child, and you shouldn't try, since it will only further aggravate her. Gently guide her back to bed. In the morning she won't remember a thing.
The most important thing you can do for a sleepwalking child is to prevent her from injuring herself. Although sleepwalkers are remarkably deft, they are clumsier than when awake. Keep doors and windows closed and locked. Consider a gate for across the stairway. The Canadian Sleep Society recommends attaching a bell to the child's door to alert you to nocturnal wanderings.
During sleepwalking, your child partly wakes from deep sleep, usually within three hours of falling asleep. If you talk to your child, she usually woiA answer. If she does, her speech may be garbled. As she roams, she may perform purposeful tasks, such as eating, brushing her teeth, or looking for a book. Neither awake or fully asleep, she's confused and may urinate in a different place. Simply guide her back to bed. In the morning, she'll have no memory of the experience. Don't ask her about it. It will only embarrass her. Most children who sleepwalk don't have emotional problems. Your child will outgrow sleepwalking, usually by age fifteen.
Excerpted from Raising great Kids: Ages 6 to 12 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.