The Ultimate Guide to Easy Bedtimes

Smart answers to every sleep problem.

The Crier

Your child sobs endlessly in his crib when you put him down.

Typical age: Newborn to 6 months

Your action plan: Create a quiet, soothing environment at home before bedtime. Swaddling your baby and running a white noise machine or CD (available at will mimic his experience in the womb, comforting him and leading to deeper sleep. White noise also drowns out household sounds that may awaken your little one.

What not to do: Avoid running to your infant whenever you hear the slightest whimper. Keep in mind that many babies make little noises in their sleep. If you do enter his room, simply pat him gently or jostle the crib lightly to soothe him. Picking your baby up or talking to him prevents your child from learning to fall asleep without you.

The Frequent Waker

Your child is up every few hours throughout the night.

Typical age: Newborn to 6 months

Your action plan: During the day, feed your baby in a dimly lit, quiet room to keep her from viewing feedings as stimulating. If she falls asleep while feeding at night, wake her up by jostling her slightly before returning her to the crib. If this problem continues or emerges suddenly after the baby years, consult your pediatrician to determine the cause.

What not to do: Don't play with or sing to your baby when she wakes at night; it rewards the behavior. Breast milk exits the stomach faster than bottle milk, so breastfed newborns will wake up more frequently. Refrain from night feedings when it becomes clear that she's feeding for comfort instead of nourishment (usually by 9 months).

The Tantrum Thrower

Your child is up every few hours throughout the night.

Typical age: Newborn to 6 months

Your action plan: Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual that your child looks forward to -- a bedtime story, lullabies, talking together about the day. If a tantrum occurs, carry your child to bed without saying a word. Talking will simply stall bedtime -- his aim in the first place. If he won't stay in bed, follow the action plan for "the wanderer" below. Also, make sure your child isn't napping too long or too late.

What not to do: Don't spank your child or speak to him harshly; it will only make him dread bedtime more. Some kids might have nighttime separation anxiety if they never learned to fall asleep by themselves. In this case, try introducing a "lovey" like a blanket or special stuffed animal that he can carry during the day and sleep with at night.

The Staller

Your child makes constant requests, delaying her bedtime.

Typical age: Preschoolers

Your action plan: Create an illustrated chart of your bedtime routine (one story, one drink of water, and so on, ending with a picture of a ticket that allows the bearer one extra request). The chart will curtail endless demands by laying out the rules clearly. In addition, your child will feel more secure knowing that the ticket gives her access to you. Signal the end of the routine by turning off the light.

What not to do: Very important: Don't be inconsistent. If you give in to your child's requests after she's used her ticket, she'll continue to nag you every night. Side note: Spend more uninterrupted time with your child earlier in the day. If bedtime is the only time your little one has your undivided attention, she'll be more apt to stall.

The Wanderer

Your child wakes up in the middle of the night and won't go back to sleep without a parent.

Typical age: Toddlers and preschoolers

Your Action Plan:If your child wanders into your bedroom, lead him back to his bed -- without saying a word or saying very little -- even if you have to do it several times a night. The lack of chit-chat will reinforce the message that there is no benefit to going into your room.

What not to do: Avoid body contact with your child as he's falling asleep. Keeping your physical distance will help him learn to go back to sleep without you if he wakes in the night. If you don't believe in co-sleeping, don't let your child into your bed -- he'll quickly become a bed-switcher.

The Night Owl

Your child becomes energized at night and seems to take forever to fall asleep.

Typical age: Preschoolers and school-age kids

Your Action Plan: Turn off the computer as bedtime approaches. Some experts believe the monitor's light mimics daylight, tricking the body into wakefulness. Have your child stick to her regular sleep schedule on weekends; in some kids, even a one-hour change can reset their body clock.

What Not To Do: Don't let your child have a television in her room or watch one close to bedtime; studies show it's associated with sleep disturbances. In addition, don't let your child play or do homework in bed. Using a bed for activities other than sleeping confuses the body.

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the September 2004 issue of Child Magazine.

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