Most parents will at some time or another encounter their child’s refusal to go to bed when the appointed hour arrives. Evenings are a time of day when mums and dads are most likely to be at home together, with the working day over and the household winding down for the night. Naturally, children want to spend as much time as they can with their mums and dads and this is the time of day when they are most likely to have both of their attention. It can be difficult for them to understand that they need to go to sleep – telling them that they could be affecting their healthy development by having late nights isn’t going to cut it, as four-year olds lack the cognitive ability to think ahead and make such a reasoned judgement. Here are ten handy tips that have been designed to help you help your little one settle down for the night with a minimum of fuss.
- Children thrive on a routine. Going to bed at the same time every night will help them physically and mentally get into a healthy sleep routine. Every now and then they should be allowed a late night as a treat, but these should be exactly that, a treat. Regular late bedtimes will make your child tired and irritable and they will find it difficult to concentrate during the day. Later bedtimes will also make it hard for kids to adjust back to a normal schedule.
- The bedtime routine should include activities that prepare them in stages to go bed. Having a bath could perhaps be the first activity – this will let them know that the routine has begun and has the added bonus of relaxing them. Next could be putting on their pyjamas, brushing their teeth, reading a book and playing some gentle music as they settle down.
- When your child begins their bedtime routine, keep all the activities in a movement towards their bedroom. If they start from the living room, they should be making their way progressively towards their bed. Don’t start in the bathroom, head back down to the kitchen for a snack, go into their room to fetch their pyjamas and then go back into the living room to read a book. Keep the bed as the end goal, with all activities in the routine heading your child towards it.
- You should ban the television for at least two hours before bedtime. Studies have shown that watching TV before going to bed can stimulate your child’s mind, making it difficult for them to relax. Drama shows that might be on in the early evening may have an action theme, which can excite children and make it difficult to settle. Programmes with a frightening content can cause nightmares – even the news can cause stress if the content happens to be harrowing.
- Promote restful leisure pursuits towards the end of the day with a minimum of physical activities. It’s natural for parents to want to spend time playing with their children when they get in from work at the end of the day, but too much running, jumping around and dancing will speed up their metabolism , meaning that it will take a longer time for them to settle. Try and finish all physical activities at least two hours before your child’s bedtime.
- Make your child’s bedroom an attractive place to be and a comfortable one in which to sleep. The temperature in should be cool enough to ensure comfortable sleep in the summer and warm enough for the winter. Bright colours can be energising, which is not what you want when settling your little one down. Red can increase heart rate and metabolism and babies have been observed to cry more in rooms that are painted yellow. Soft hues and a minimum of colourful patterns will instead promote relaxation. The colour blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, so this is why it is often used in bedrooms. Pink is a similarly tranquilising colour. Lighting should also be soft, as too much bright lighting will reduce the production of melatonin; a chemical in the body that aids sleep.
- Be firm when it comes to bedtime and don’t feel guilty about laying down the law. If your child calls out to you once you have settled them down and left the room, find out what they want. If it’s a request for a drink or a cuddle, give them one, but if this pattern continues, you should tell them that they need to go to sleep and ignore subsequent requests. By being consistent your child will understand that it’s time for them to sleep. Don’t feel bad about it – children need discipline and to have limits set. By ensuring that they have a good night’s sleep you are helping to set them up for a healthy future.