Just when a weary parent needs time away from the daily demands of parenting, a child may try to prolong bedtime for every second possible. A parent's incentives or threats usually only create argument and conflict because the real cause is in the events of the day already done.
To smooth future bedtimes, parents may consider designing a new strategy. Your best hope is in determining which activities play a role in your child's sleep pattern. Look first at diet and exercise routines. Snacks with caffeine such as a glass of Coke or chocolate milk can disturb the sleep of a 150-pound adult; think how concentrated that amount is in a small child.
Establishing a pleasant routine of bathing and reading is also important. Then use the routine regularly, letting the time of the routine vary as needed.
A daily chart that records both the activities that might be related to sleep (exercise, diet, exciting or frightening TV) and a note on how the bedtime routine went on that day can provide a better understanding. Also record what your child drinks, particularly those drinks with sugar or, please forbid it, caffeine.
For 30 percent of children who have sleeping difficulties, the problem is intensified by bad diet and disrupted routines. Each night, we all go through different stages of light and heavy sleeping. There are moments when we are awake -- episodes so brief we don't remember them.
"Trained night criers" and "trained night feeders," as doctors sometimes call them, have come to expect entertainment or feeding or both when they wake up at night. These bad habits usually begin when parents rock the children to sleep, entertain or provide an extra feeding during the night.
Many pediatricians advise putting the child to bed while still awake but sleepy. Then the child's last waking memory is the bed, not the parent. Children who are rocked to sleep and then put to bed expect parents to be handy when they wake up later.
For the night crier, doctors recommend only unentertaining and brief visits by parents without turning on an extra light and without lifting the child out of the crib. Soothing words and possibly a quick diaper change if needed should be done without extra fanfare.
Putting a child to bed should not be used as a punishment. This usually results in too much confusion and resistance at bedtime. If bed, bedtime, and isolation in the bedroom have not been used in negative negotiations during the day, sleeping should be welcomed at least as often as it is for adults.
Many counselors provide the following tips for both children and adults:
- To keep your body's routine, try to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including weekends.
- Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, chocolate, and exercise before bed.
- For children, a relaxing routine before bed is important, such as a warm bath and a reading session. Avoid exciting or upsetting TV in the evening.
Occasional bed-wetting is not unusual for children under the age of 10. Lined underpants or big-child diapers may have to serve as a temporary solution.
For more than occasional accidents, the first place to start on the problem is at your physician's office since frequent bed-wetting can be caused by infections of the bladder and urinary tract.
When you are sure that a physical ailment is not the problem, you could use a bed-wetting alert device that consists of special pants with a lining that detects moisture and sets off a battery-operated buzzer similar to a loud alarm clock. Since bed-wetting does not begin abruptly, the child has time to wake up and go to the bathroom when the buzzer sounds. These devices are carried in the Sears Home Healthcare catalog (1-800-326-1750), and are also available from Dri Sleeper (www.dri-sleeper.com) or Potty Pager (www.pottypager.com or phone 303-440-8517).
Parents must get up with the alarm, too. As with most child-rearing challenges, a gadget by itself will not solve the problem. You may have to help your child shake out the cobwebs enough to even find the bathroom. A little support for a job well done and you're back to bed without a big event. It will all be worth the effort because bed-wetting can complicate other difficulties - fears of sleeping, staying overnight with relatives or friends, embarrassment, and shyness.