BEDTIME PROBLEMS

The most frequently reported problem that parents encounter with their children occurs at bedtime. The child may refuse to go to his room to sleep by himself. When he does go to bed, he may have difficulty falling asleep. He may wake up often during the night; he may have nightmares. Parents question if they should make changes. Should they allow the child to sleep in the parents' bed, or in their bedroom or in another child's bed, or should the parent sleep in their child's room? It is necessary to become somewhat flexible. Bedtime may be delayed when the child is more anxious or wants to talk longer, but a limit should be set.

It is natural for a child to want to be close to his parents, and for the parents to want to have the child near them. Some children, who are more anxious than others, can be allowed to move into a room with another child, or sleep on a mattress in the parents' bedroom. For another child it may be sufficient for the parent, at bedtime, to spend a little extra time in the child's bedroom reassuring him. All such arrangements, however, should return to normal after a few days. The parents and the child together should agree on the day for the return to his own bed (ideally not longer than 3-4 days hence) and the parents should abide by the decision. It is important for the child's independence that the parent be firm about his commitment.

Parents should also be aware of their own fears and their own uncertainty and of the effect these have upon the child.

If parents question--Is it going to be safe there? Will he be frightened?--they contribute to the child's continuing fear and his inability to go back to his room. Reassurance with firmness is an effective approach. Getting angry at the child, punishing, spanking, or shouting at him will rarely help. If the child comes out of his room, calmly return him to it and reassure him of your presence nearby. It may be helpful to leave a night light on in the room, or in the hall, and leave his door ajar. Spending more time with the child during the day will make him feel more secure in the evening and at night.