Monday, November 29, 2010

Bedtime Q & A

To mirror my weekly CBS 11 news segment (4:00 pm broadcast, Dallas/Ft. Worth market), here's a little Q & A on kids and the dreaded...bedtime.

My child HATES to go to bed. What do I do?

  1. Have a routine
  2. Be Sparkly

1. Have a routine. Children crave consistency. They thrive in an environment where they know what to expect, and bedtime is no exception. Have a bedtime routine that is the same every night. Even something as simple as: Bath, story, snuggle, sleep, will help your child know what is coming every single night.

2. Be sparkly. In the words of Sandra Dodd, being ‘sparkly’ is the greatest way to relate to a child. It’s in the marketing- make it fun for them. ‘Bath’ isn’t fun. ‘Bubble bath with squirty toys and wax crayons that can draw on the tiles’ is fun. THAT’S sparkly.

Should I let my child ‘cry it out’?
The Ferber Method, also known as ‘crying it out,’ is a method of sleep training in which parents leave children alone for timed intervals, essentially disregarding cries and whines and letting the child eventually soothe him/herself (or not).

Since it would be highly unethical to randomly assign/tell parents whether or not to respond to their crying children at night (“Okay, ma’am, we’d like you to NOT comfort your son every night for the next two weeks when he cries...”), there isn’t a lot of completely experimental research on the Ferber method.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, research doesn’t give us a definitive answer. I will say, though, that the tenants of sensitive parenting encourage us to respond to and comfort our children when they’re distressed. It’s our natural instinct- when our child cries, we soothe him. But what do you do when you suspect your child is crying to try and manipulate you- to stay in her room, to let her stay up longer, etc? Keep reading...

In the meantime, you can find a GREAT article on the pros and cons of the Ferber method here, and here a few take home points from the article:

      The Ferber Method
  • Is NOT recommended for babies under 6 months
  • Should NOT be used to treat sleep disorders or problems
  • Does not teach kids HOW to fall asleep

What do I do when my child keeps getting up at night, wanting to get in my bed?
I talked about this a bit in an earlier post. In many instances, the answer may be as simple as finding a compromise by which both parties feel like their needs are met. Some children may need to have a parent close to them while they’re sleeping, whether at the beginning of the night or after nighttime wakings. Try making a bed of blankets with a pillow at the end of mom and dad’s bed. During the night, if she wakes up, she can come sleep on that with the understanding that she must be quiet or else she goes back to her own room. This will fulfill her need of having a parent close by and also teach her to self-sooth. More importantly, it might give her a sense of control for handling this problem on her own.

Now, I completely expect her to violate the ‘quiet’ rule a few (or many) times. I would attempt to battle that with the following: take her back to her bed and tell her she can come back to the pallet when she is ready, but the quiet rule still applies.

My child manipulates me by crying unless I stay in the room until he falls asleep, then he takes FOREVER to fall asleep. HELP!
I also touched on this in my earlier post, but I’ll reiterate here. I can only imagine how frustrated you are because I’m fairly certain I was that child for my parents. I used to make one of my parents sit by my bed until I fell asleep. Then, I would make myself stay awake because I thought, “Well, if I just stay awake, mom won’t leave because she said she stay until I’m asleep.” I literally have a memory of my father reading through the entire newspaper next to my bed. When I was a bit older, I used to make myself stay awake all night because I was so scared of being alone at night in my room. To this day, I have no idea why I was so scared. I ended up co-sleeping with my parents (much to their dismay) until I was about 10- and I think it lasted so long because I knew I was in charge of the situation and could manipulate it to my satisfaction.

Wanting to control a situation is extremely common in children, even very young ones. If we’re being honest, it’s common in people of all ages. I personally always recommend parents helping their children to feel in control of their world. I think about it in terms of trying to find a way to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’ (did you see my post on letting your child have control in appropriate ways?) For children especially, the things they want control over may seem silly or trivial, but, for many things, if it’s not hurting them or someone else, why not? Plus, letting them have control in lots of little situations often leads to less resistance when you need to control other situations.

Bedtime is no different:
Let her choose the jammies
Let him choose which bedtime story to read
Let her say goodnight to her toys
Let him choose a special stuffed animal to sleep with each night

Bottom Line: Bedtime is tough, but it doesn't have to be a power struggle. Don't go into it thinking that way. No one has to 'win.' The goal is a good night sleep- for the whole family!

What's bedtime like at your house?


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