Sweet Dreams for Tots


The curtains are drawn, lights are dimmed and the books are ready to go back on the shelf in exchange for a night of happy dreams. Instead, your little one is full of stories of his own. You just know the road to dreamland is at least another hour away.

Falling asleep is difficult for many toddlers and preschoolers. Research shows approximately 21 percent of preschoolers deal with at least two sleep challenges, including nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, repeated night waking or daytime tiredness.

This can become frustrating for exhausted parents, especially when techniques recommended by parenting experts either seem too cruel, too soft or simply ineffective.

To help your child go to sleep, the key is consistency. Ensure that your child goes to bed at the same time every night and follows the same steps. After a month or less, your child will come to expect this routine, and ease into it comfortably.

The best thing to do is to muster all the patience you have and relax with him. Create a calm environment, sing a lullaby and read a book together. Do not reprimand your child for not falling asleep, and do not leave him alone in the dark if he feels scared. What children need is to feel safe, protected and looked after. Sadly parents often feel stressed and impatient when their children do not fall asleep. That tension often keeps their little ones awake even longer. Instead, use these few minutes to relax completely, and leave a hand on your child’s arm or back to “transfer” that state of relaxation onto them. Take a few deep breaths, and teach your child to do the same. Soon, your child will learn from you the tools to enter into a state of relaxation and will be able to fall asleep without any help.

Here are a few things to consider to ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep and establishes a healthy sleep pattern.

Learn Your Child’s Sleeping Preferences
Many children wake up at night because they feel too hot or cold. The room temperature you feel comfortable with may be different than what your child prefers. Lighting is another big issue for children. While some will wake up if the room is too bright, or if light seeps in through the window at night, others can’t fall asleep when the room is too dark. Listen to your child and make sure that a nightlight is left on for her if complete darkness is not something she is comfortable with. Pay attention to the reasons your child wakes up, and adjust the environment accordingly.

Limit Late Liquids
Once your child is potty trained, waking up in the evening to go to the bathroom becomes a sleep interruption. While it’s important for children to stay hydrated, always encourage your child to drink water and liquids throughout the day. In the evening, only give your child liquids if he requests it.

Restrict TV
Research shows consuming media in the evening is linked to a significant increase in sleep problems among children. Yet 20 to 43 percent of preschoolers have televisions in their bedrooms. These same children watch an additional 40 minutes of television per day on average, and are eight times more likely to suffer from sleep problems. The Seattle Children’s Research Institute discovered a link between sleep problems and watching evening television as well as playing video games or using computers at night. Even 14 minutes of TV time after 7 p.m. affected children, regardless of the content. Choose a good book instead.

Avoid Violent Media Consumption
Children who are exposed to violence in the media (and this, unfortunately, includes the evening news), or play video games with violent content at anytime during the day, are much more likely to suffer from sleep problems. This is due in part to children younger than 5 having difficulty distinguishing between real and make-believe. For this age group, violence, whether it is real or not, has the same effect.

Getting children to establish healthy sleeping patterns can be a challenge for parents, who often are deprived of sleep themselves. It also can be scary for young children who find themselves alone and awake in a dark room. Not being able to fall back asleep can provoke anxiety. Creating a positive and understanding environment will go a long way toward supporting your child in the development of good sleeping patterns. In the long run, this will help him get a good night’s sleep much faster and more effectively than by force.

Natacha V. Beim is a writer, speaker, teacher, parenting expert and the founder of Core Education & Fine Arts Junior Kindergarten schools (www.cefa.ca).