Sleep Smarts: 8 Sleeping Tips for Children by Joanna Clyde Findlay, MFT, ATR

By Joanna Clyde Findlay, MFT, ATR

A well-rested child is a child who can learn, grow and manage their feelings better.

1. Daily Routines – Build Habits

From the early stages in a baby’s life establish a routine that signals it is time to wind down and get ready for sleep; a bath, a story in bed, a good night snuggle. Have a relaxing, predictable bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child goes to bed. Your child should sleep in the same sleeping environment every night, in a room that is cool, quiet and dark – and without a TV or tech screens.

2. Number of Hours – Add Them Up

If your child isn’t showing signs of being ready for bed and is having a hard time winding down to ease into sleep, he/she may not be getting enough sleep. Realistically check how many hours of sleep your child is getting. Children need on average:

  • (3-4 years) 10-12 hours + 1-3 hours (1 nap)
  • (4-6 years) 10-13 hours + 0-2.5 hours (1 or no nap)
  • (6-8 years)  9-12 hours
  • (8-13 years) 9-11 hours

3. When Your Child Goes to Bed, Lights Off by 9:00PM

Parents of young children sometimes believe that bedtime doesn’t matter as long as the child is getting enough total sleep.  However, many studies have shown that putting kids to bed early is beneficial for their physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Not only do kids tend to sleep more when the lights go out sooner, but they also may get a greater proportion of restorative sleep, too. Getting kids to bed early can also be beneficial for parental sanity!

4. Sleep and Technology – No Screens at Bedtime

Looking at tech devices, including TV before the bedtime routine is linked to bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours. Also be aware that scary television shows, videos, images on the news and even cartoons can add to bedtime fears.

5. Set Limits – Be Clear and Consistent

If your child wants you stay with them after bedtime, tell them you will be back… you have to “let the cat in”, “check the pan on the stove”. Check on your child as you said you would every 5 or 10 minutes. Go back and check and reassure him/her but avoid checking in if it is based on your child’s crying or calling out for you.

6. Teach Skills – Your Child Can Learn to Relax

Teach your child strategies to help relax them at bedtime and fall asleep. Share strategies for relaxation such as visualizing a happy, calming place, focusing on taking deep slow breaths or progressive muscle relaxation.

7. Night Time Waking: How to Fall Asleep Without You

If your child is still waking you up several times during the night and needs you to go back to sleep, it maybe because he/she has not yet learned how to fall asleep or fall back asleep alone. Children need to learn to fall asleep by themselves. Progressively remove your attention and presence so that your child can learn how to fall asleep alone and you will probably all have a better night.

8. Night Time Fears: Tell the Worries Who Is Boss

Your child may be especially anxious at bedtime and ask for endless reassurances.  Tell your child that “worries” or “the worry pest” likes to come at bedtime and tell kids things and that both of your jobs are to tell it to “buzz off!”  You can help your child develop comfort being in the dark by having some fun with flashlights in a dark room.  Further, you can also teach him/her to “change the channel” and watch another relaxing scene in their mind. You can help them celebrate staying in bed and being the boss!

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