Bedtime often becomes the most frustrating part of almost every parent’s day, so we thought we’d provide you with a few of Dr. Ann’s quick tips to help make bedtime something you and your children look forward to each day.
Create bedtime routines. Every child cringes when they hear their parent say the words, “Okay, time for bed,” because it signifies the end of playtime and a separation from the person they adore more than anything: you. So make going to bed an experience that your children look forward to each day by spending special time with them doing things they love. For example, say to your kids, “Ready, set go! It’s time to snuggle together,” and then maybe you race each other to the top of the stairs. Or you might say, “Okay, it’s time to read together,” and then you hold hands and count the number of stairs together. Just be sure that you reserve your special routine only for bedtime, otherwise it will lose its magic.
Use hide-and-go-seek to cure separation anxiety. Before children can tell time (around 1st grade), bedtime represents an unwelcomed and scary separation from their parents. One of the best ways to help your kids cope with this separation is by playing hide-and-go-seek during the day. When you hide, say to your child, “Even though I cannot see your face right now while you hide, just like when you are sleeping, you are still my little boy/girl who has green eyes and black hair who loves to ride bikes. And no matter where you hide, I will always find you and we will see each other again.” And once found, make it a point to do so with a big smile, hug or a high-five.
Pick a comfort object. Just like some of us sleep with our favorite pillow to signal that it is time to drift off to sleep in a familiar setting, kids need the same! During the day, when your children have a hard time dealing with something, give them the comfort they need by handing them their sleep aid comfort object. For example, if a stuffed animal helps your child sleep, during a difficult moment you could hand it over and say, “Mr. Snuggles will help you feel better just like he does when you sleep.” This helps reinforce the connection between your children and their comfort objects, enabling them to sleep with comfort and security, while making it less painful during the nightly separation from their parents.
IMPORTANT: Never use bedtime as a punishment or discipline technique. Doing so will only result in teaching kids to be afraid of sleep and not being able to feel safe without their parents. Bedtime should be about teaching kids to comfort themselves.
For more great information on getting your kids to bed, check out Dr. Ann’s recent video featured on ParentsAsk.com, Goodnights: Creating Positive Bedtime Rituals, or schedule a consultation with Dr. Ann if you desire one-on-one assistance with special sleep concerns.