Expert Advice on Sleep Routines

The Pint-Size Staller

Sabrina, Mark, Jack, 3, and Grace, 1

The Scene: "Jack is a delayer of bedtime," says Mark Murphy of Scarborough, ME. Ever since Jack's baby sister was born, Mark has been handling his son's bedtime while his wife, Sabrina, oversees Grace's. The baby sleeps fine through the night, but with Jack, it's a different story.

Mark arrives home at 6:30 p.m. and aims to get Jack into bed between 8:30 and 9:15. Alas, Jack will do anything to avoid bedtime. "One night, I turned around to get a towel, and Jack leapt out of the tub and ran through the house," says Mark. "When I finally caught him, he said, 'I'm not going through this every night!," which is exactly what we say to him every night."

Once father and son reach the bedroom at last, the real stalling starts. First, Jack asks Mark to say his prayers with him. Next, he asks for a story, then his G.I. Joe "guys." When Mark finally leaves, Jack lures him back by saying, "There's something wrong."

The Expert: Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The Game Plan: The first thing that concerned Dr. Mindell was Jack's bedtime. She advised moving it a half hour earlier. Then she suggested making a pictorial chart with each element of the routine -- bath, pajamas, prayers, stories, "guys," bed -- displayed in the order that they'll be done. When it's bedtime, she explained, you can look at the chart and ask your child, "What do we do next?" Children like routines in which things happen right in a row, she says.

She also proposed allowing Jack to make one extra request each night but said that afterward, Mark simply needs to stay neutral and strong, either ignoring his son or saying "It's bedtime" when he comes out of his room.

The Outcome: "Once I got the poster up, Jack respected it," says Mark. "The whole routine now takes about 15 minutes after the bath, and if I miss anything, he calls me on it."

Mark admits that the hardest part, at first, was forcing himself to go through the bedtime routine -- a task that Jack found much easier than his dad. At the end of a long day, the last thing Mark wanted to do was initiate the nightly ritual. But he learned to discipline himself until it became a habit for him too.

In the end, Mark found that the chart worked so well that he didn't always heed Dr. Mindell's other advice. "We try for an earlier bedtime, but we don't always make it," he says. "And I usually don't need to allow Jack another request. Once he sees the picture of the bed, he knows it's time to go to sleep."

Laura Hilgers lives with her husband and two children in Marin County, CA.

Related Articles:

Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from the October 2001 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment