Bedtime Blues for Young Children

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By Hayley Jackson, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

Sleep is an important aspect of the health and well-being of young children (American Academy of Pediatricians, 2016). The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends children get enough sleep or they are at risk for a number of negative health outcomes including obesity, social-emotional challenges and academic difficulties. The amount of sleep children need varies based on age, with the AAP recommending the following (see chart).

Unfortunately, sometimes getting children to bed can be a challenge. If you’ve ever struggled with getting your child to bed or have had difficulty setting up a naptime routine, here are some strategies that can help.

CREATE A CONSISTENT SCHEDULE. Children are better able to navigate the world around them when they know what to expect. Doing the “getting ready” tasks for bedtime in the same order every night will help your child know what is coming and prepare them for an easier transition to sleep. One way to start this is to first identify the tasks that need to be completed before sleeping. Things like putting on pajamas, taking a bath, brushing our teeth and reading a bedtime story are all things you may need to do before going to sleep. Decide on these tasks, and then decide which order they will be done in. Depending on the age of the child, you can involve them in this process.

TEACH THE ROUTINE. Once you and your child have established the routine, you’ll want to create a visual to help reinforce what comes next in your bedtime routine. Having pictures of each task is a great way to do this. Put the pictures of the task in the order you will complete them, and then use this each night as you are completing the routine.

CALM DOWN STRATEGIES. Another aspect of helping children get to sleep easier is to help them calm their bodies after a period of being active and alert. Things such as taking deep breaths is one way to help children calm down. One way to teach children to take deep breaths is to ask them to visualize first smelling a flower (so they breathe in through their nose), and then asking them to blow out the candle (so they breathe out through their mouth).