Getting a younger child to settle down in the evening, go to bed, (stay there!) and then actually fall asleep is a big challenge for many parents, and one they struggle with nightly.
On the one hand, you've been apart for much of the day, or too preoccupied with trying to get through it while making sure that everything gets taken care of to really focus on your child. You understand her need for attention and desire to stay up and play with you just a bit longer...
On the other hand, you've also had a long day, and really need some quiet-time yourself to relax and unwind, maybe even to tuck in early yourself. It's not just your child who needs her sleep, after all.
To make it easier on you (and her), here are seven things you can do to make the whole process easier on everyone:
1. No television for your child during the two hours before bed. Research has shown that children who watch TV in the evenings stay up later and sleep less than those who do not.
2. Avoid having your child exposed to bright light during the last two hours of the day. Light sends a very powerful signal to the brain that it's still day, and will wake your child up instead of settling her down.
3. Engage in shared, calming activities together with your child before tucking her in. Many families say bedtime prayers; others sing soft lullabies together.
4. Read to your child! No matter her age, reading to your child provides a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with her, and also allows her an opportunity to voice concerns or anxiety which could trigger nightmares if not resolved. Reading together will also instill a life-long love of reading.
5. If your child has a tendency to re-emerge from her bedroom for "just one more" kiss/hug/story/drink of water, try negotiating a pass system, in which she can come out of her room only once (with the pass), and earn a small reward for compliance after a few days
6. Make sure your child isn't napping too much during the day. If she wakes up at seven o'clock in the morning, takes a three-hour nap at daycare and is being put to bed at eight o'clock in the evening, there is no way she'll be ready to go to sleep. She simply won't be sleepy enough!
7. Keep your child's bedroom dark. If she needs a nightlight, make sure it is of low intensity and that it does not directly illuminate on her. The same is true for kids who need the hall light left on: if it shines directly on her face, it will make it much harder for her to fall asleep.
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Learn how to help your child get a great night's sleep with my new book:
Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids (a Harvard Medical School Guide)