More Strategies for Better Sleep
Need for a night watchman
If your child requires extra attention at night, or even just the presence of a parent to find her way to la-la land, Dr. Glaze recommends a technique called extinction -- as in, make her need for you at nighttime extinct. This is more of a cold-turkey approach, where you explain to your child that you love her and want her to get a good night's rest, but then you close the door and ignore any shouts. (It's helpful to turn off the monitor if you still have one.) Alternatively, you could slowly move out of her room over a period of several nights. Start out by sitting on your child's bed, then sit on the floor by the bed the next few nights, then on the floor close to the door, and finally walk out the door.
For a child who's still awake for 30 minutes or more after you put him to bed, Dr. Honaker suggests a technique called bedtime fading. First track what time he's actually falling asleep by making frequent post-bedtime checks for two weeks. Then use the latest time -- say it's 9:30 P.M. -- as his bedtime for the next few nights. When he begins falling asleep soon after getting into bed, start moving closer to his ideal bedtime. The theory behind this: All the time he's spent tossing and turning has probably caused your child to associate the fruitless behavior with his bed. Being ready to fall asleep shortly after climbing under his sheets should help him connect his bed to the idea of a peaceful slumber.
An active mind
If your little one generally has a tough time winding down at bedtime, try an infusion of the mundane. This means no screen time near the end of the day. Elisa Nebolsine, a children's cognitive behavioral therapist in McLean, Virginia, says a kid's body and mind need to be relaxed -- even bored -- in order for them to fall asleep. Try tricks like having your child count backwards from ten (or 20) over and over to help her zone out. Or read her a picture book that is a little too young for her (one she knows by heart); she may find the familiarity and repetition soothing.
It's tempting to just scooch over when your child wants to get into bed with you. But stay strong and walk him back to his room. And if he tends to climb in while you're sound asleep, Dr. Mindell suggests attaching a bell to your child's doorknob or yours. When you hear it ring, get up and quickly and quietly escort him back to his room.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Parents magazine.
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