1) Bedtime resistance (e.g., "I'm not tired!" "I don't want to go to bed!")
- Create a bedtime routine, and stick to it as much as possible. I recommend beginning a predictable routine as early as possible (i.e., infancy) so that you have fewer struggles as your children get older. For older children, creating a visual chart outlining the routine may be helpful. For instance, your routine might be Dinner, Bath, Brush Teeth, Put on Pajamas, Read a Story, Go to Bed. Next to each item, you can put a picture to illustrate the step (such as clipart or an actual photo of your children completing the activity).
- If your child still says he can't sleep, allow him to look at a book quietly in bed. If you notice that he is awake long after bedtime, look at his daily schedule to determine if his nap is too long or if there is a more appropriate bedtime.
- If you know your bedtime is appropriate, and you stuck to your routine, ignore any further protests. You don't want to accidentally give your child a reason to continue this behavior - getting your attention! So, be firm and consistent...and boring!
- Requests for water - allow one drink before getting into bed, and make it clear that it is the last drink. Ignore any requests after that.
- Requests for the potty - Children should feel free to get up during the night to use the potty if they need to, but you don't want to encourage bedtime avoidance. So, be sure your child uses the potty right before getting into bed. If he needs to go later, allow him to go on his own (without your attention).
3) Gets out of bed (at bedtime, or throughout the night)
- Be quiet - there is no need for a big discussion. Just lead him back to bed, saying nothing or only, "It's time for bed now."
- Be boring - don't give any extra attention right now.
- Be consistent - follow these steps every time, and you will see a decrease in your child getting out of bed.
- When your child stays in his bed all night long, give lots of praise in the morning!
- Reassure your child that he is safe. Be sure to have a night light in your child's room. You can even choose to let him help you pick it out at the store. If you don't have a night light, you can leave the bedroom door open and the hallway light on.
- Try to make the dark a more positive thing for your child. Get some glow in the dark things (like those star stickers that go on the ceiling), or explore with a flashlight.
- If he is still scared, you can linger in the doorway until he falls asleep, or turn on more lights. Gradually fade these supports over the next few nights until your child falls asleep by himself with a night light.
5) Bad dreams
- In the middle of the night, all you can do is try to make your child safe and comfortable again. For some kids, they might need to sleep in your room; for some, they might just need a hug. Try not to talk too much about the dream at this point so they can move on and go back to sleep. Talk about only positive things.
- Eliminate any "scary" TV shows or movies if you are seeing more and more bad dreams (especially before bedtime). Remember that even kids' movies can be scary to young children! My kids loved watching "How to Train Your Dragon" but they kept waking up from bad dreams about scary dragons, so we put that movie on hiatus.
- Before saying good night, talk to your child about what he wants to dream about that night. Make sure to focus on positive, light things!
6) Wakes too early
- For younger children (still in a crib), allow them to entertain themselves in their crib if possible. You may place some books or quiet toys in the crib the night before. For younger children who climb out of the crib or get out of bed, just quietly lead them back to bed (again, being quiet, boring, and consistent).
- For older children, lead them back to bed as well. You can also try a toddler alarm clock (we had this one) or even a regular alarm clock to provide some structure on when it's OK to wake up.
- Gives lots of praise (or even stickers) in the morning if your child stays in bed until an appropriate time!
- If your child continues to wake too early, make sure your bedtime is appropriate.
Things to remember:
- Be prepared for sleep issues to re-occur when your child is sick, overtired, going through a growth spurt, teething, or pretty much at any time! Just be consistent, and you will get through it!