Parenting: Guidelines For Your Child's Bedtime (cont.)

2. Learn to recognize sleep problems in your child. According to the NSF, you should look for things like difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. These sleep problems can be evident in daytime behavior such as being overtired, sleepy, or cranky.

3. Consistency. As in all aspects of parenting, consistency and follow-through are key ingredients for success. Without them, you just can't expect your child to learn or change behavior.

4. Teamwork. If you are co-parenting, it is important to discuss your strategy beforehand and work as a team. If you are beginning a nighttime program after having some difficulty with your child, explain your new expectations, if your child is old enough.

5. Set a regular bedtime and waketime. This sets and aligns expectations for both you and your child and allows you to plan the bedtime routine accordingly. Otherwise, you may have a tendency to slip and slide late into the night. In addition, this helps keep your child's internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, on a 24-hour cycle. Since our normal daily rhythms are around 25 hours, we would tend to drift out-of-sync with the 24-hour day, if it were not for external cues like a set bedtime, a bedtime routine, lightness, and darkness.

There is not one ideal bedtime for each child, because sleep needs, lifestyles, and napping patterns can vary considerably. However, you can look at the typical sleep requirements for various age groups and use it as a guide. Note that this does not apply to newborns and infants younger than about 4 months, because their biological rhythms or internal clocks are immature and not yet regular.

6. Routine, routine, routine. Kids love it, they thrive on it, and it works. Routines set expectations and help train behavior; a nightly bedtime routine helps your child learn to be sleepy, just like reading in bed may put some of us adults to sleep (even when we're out of bed). The structure of bedtime routines also associates the bedroom with good feelings and provides a sense of security and control. Routines can take the stress out of bedtime and help make it a special time, especially if you have more than one child.

This is a time to wind down. So calming activities, like taking a bath, reading a story, or perhaps a gentle massage are good choices. Keep TVs, computers, and the like out of the bedroom, because they can arouse your child and keep her up later.

Let your child know what the routine is, including the time limits involved, and stick to them. It is often very helpful to give notice that time is almost up, like, "We have just three more pages of our story," but be firm and do not go past your limit. Uncertainty breeds tension, and arguments may follow. A key goal in any routine is teaching your child to soothe herself so that she may fall asleep unassisted and put herself back to sleep unassisted when she awakens at night. Key to achieving this goal is for parents to leave their child alone long enough for her to go to sleep.

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