How to Help a Child Who Is Having Trouble Falling Asleep

Helping a Child Get to Sleep

Helping your child get to sleep can be an exercise in parental patience. No parent has been spared their child's bedtime plea to stay up "just five more minutes." The excuses children come up with for wanting or needing to stay up later are endless: I'm thirsty...I need to go potty...I want to hear another story...I'm not tired...and on.

When the attempts to stay up past bedtime are infrequent or related to special occasions, they don't indicate a real problem. Allowing your child a rare night up past his regular bedtime is generally harmless. However, when a child repeatedly puts up a fight at bedtime, you need to put your foot down. After all, you are responsible for his health and well-being at this stage, and getting plenty of sleep is essential for a growing child.

First, you need to determine a good bedtime for your child. Not every child needs exactly the same amount of sleep. So observe over time the amount of sleep that allows your child to function well. Then, make getting him to bed on time a priority. Resist the distractions that can delay you in this mission: Open the mail later, don't answer the phone, and leave the dishes. Schedule evening activities so that you have adequate time to make bedtime pleasant, relaxing, and nurturing for your child. His need for gentle coaxing through his bedtime routine is an excellent reason for you to slow down, really listen, and engage with him emotionally. It can help enhance your relationship with him, help him sleep better, and be satisfying to you. You may even find that you look forward to this special time with your child each night.

If a relative, babysitter, or other caretaker watches your child, keep your child's bedtime routine the same. Be sure to inform the caretaker of the pre-sleep routine and the approximate time it should begin and end. When children must shuttle between parents who are separated or divorced, make deliberate efforts to agree upon a bedtime routine and bedtime that are consistent at both homes.

Let 'Em Ride

It's every parent's nightmare: You try every trick in your parental bag, but your child still won't take a nap, even though she's obviously cranky and tired. You beg; you plead; you begin talking to yourself in search of a solution. Oh, wouldn't it be nice to just get in the car and drive off for some peace and quiet. And then it hits you. That's it!

You gently bundle your child into the car, strap her into her car seat, then drive around the block a few times...maybe a few dozen times. Within five minutes, your little one is sound asleep. There's something about the steady vibration of a moving car that seems to put a child out in minutes. This trick has never been formally studied. Nevertheless, it has been field-tested by the ultimate authorities -- parents with cranky children. It usually works with children up to about age six and may provide you with a last-ditch way to get your child to take a nap.

Help Toddlers Transition

Saying goodbye is not easy for toddlers. When they can't see you, they think you are gone and are never coming back, even though you may be in the next room. This is called separation anxiety, and it can often strike at bedtime or during the night.

To help ease your child's anxiety, try giving him a transitional object. This transitional object, usually a blanket or stuffed animal, can help him feel more secure as he makes the transition from being with you to being without you. Some studies have shown that even an item of clothing that a child has frequently seen his mother wearing and that has his mother's scent can be an effective transitional object to aid sleep. Indeed, your child may become so attached to the transitional object that he takes it wherever he goes. (Remember Linus, the Peanuts character who never goes anywhere without his blanket?) To your child, the object is much more than just another toy. It is uniquely important because it provides comfort and security. When you wash it, don't be surprised if he sits at the dryer waiting for the final cycle to finish.

Although the value of the transitional object goes beyond aiding sleep, that is one of its most important functions. Your child must learn to fall asleep without your physical presence. Also, when your child awakens in the night, he must learn to return to sleep without calling for you each time. The transitional object can help a great deal.

On the next page, learn about various methods to treat childhood sleep disorders and help your child get a good night's sleep.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.