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Bedtime Battles

If only toddlers sought sleep as desperately as their weary parents do! But bedtime often brings on vehement protests-and an abundance of stall tactics. One of the best ways to help your 2-year-old drift happily into the Land of Nod is to appeal to her love of ritual. Set aside about 30 minutes before the desired bedtime each night for "getting ready for bed" activities: a bath, brushing teeth, reading a storybook together, singing a song, and being tucked in with a well-loved stuffed toy or blanket. Let her help make decisions along the way -- what pajamas to wear, book to read, favorite toy or stuffed animal to snuggle with. The ritual will be more enjoyable for your child if she takes an active role. A nightlight can be a comforting presence, too, since fears are starting to develop at this age.

How best to handle protests? Make it clear that it's now bedtime, that you won't be able to talk to your child anymore, and that he needs to go to sleep. Then, try to ignore his attempts to engage you in conversation. Don't return to his room unless he's sick or genuinely needs something.

If your child is in a bed rather than a crib, she may try to leave the room and join the rest of the family. Lead her back to her bed and leave the room as soon as she is lying down. Try not to get into the habit of lying down with your child or staying in her room to help her get to sleep; weaning her from this can prove to be a long, painful process.

Sometimes a toddler's persistence in screaming at bedtime can be amazing. If he's not sick and doesn't have a soiled diaper yet continues to scream, tell him that you'll have to close his door until he stops. If he keeps wailing, open the door after a minute or two and remind him that if he is quiet, you'll be happy to keep the door open. Usually, this will do the trick. (This strategy also works well for the toddler who repeatedly gets out of his bed. Just keep the door closed until he stays put.)

Try to be calm, consistent, and reassuring when dealing with a screaming toddler. Don't scold or punish your child, but by the same token, don't give the impression of "rewarding" her with extra hugs, kisses, and prolonged visits.

It may be tempting to let your little insomniac sleep in your bed-just to forestall the hysterics. While some people advocate the "family bed," in which young children share a bed or room with their parents, other experts advise against the arrangement. The primary objection? Bed sharing doesn't help a child learn to fall asleep on his own and doesn't do much for the parents' own relationship (or sleep!). If your child wanders into your room in the middle of the night wanting to come into your bed, lead him by the hand to his own bedroom. Try to keep interaction to a minimum so that he's not rewarded for staying awake. Remember, habits can be extremely hard to break at this age, and if you repeatedly give in to such manipulations, you may inevitably find yourself with a longtime bedtime partner!

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.