How to Get School Aged Kids to Go to Bed and Sleep

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In this guest post, Natalie Ebrill explains how to succeed in getting your school-aged children to go to bed and stay in bed.

The older child can be easier or harder to deal with in terms of applying a strategy for going to and staying in bed. While it may appear easy to use your parental power and negotiating skills, it is also harder dealing with the louder, more mobile, determined, sometimes manipulative child who knows how to push your buttons and verbalise their frustrations. This age group requires more time and effort in after school sports, help with homework and assignments, presentations, reading, transport to parties and play dates etc. which can be very wearing on your patience and energy leading to a situation that is common in younger babies “peace at any price”.

In planning a new approach for your school-aged child “going to and staying in bed” let’s investigate some similar issues as for a baby/toddler and then some new age-related ones.

Analyze Diet

Is something in their diet keeping them awake or making them tired in the daytime? Often children with sleeping issues can consume too many foods with artificial colours and flavours and sugar. There has also been an increase in the incidence of children having a food intolerance to some healthy foods such as the bread, fruit and vegetables they are eating. Some foods can encourage children to be awake for hours at night looking bright and wanting to play and on the other hand bread can make some children fall asleep after lunch at school. An immunologist can provide screening for intolerances and allergies.

Encourage Exercise

Is your child wearing themselves out after school and begging you for their dinner and bed? It is recommended that adults and children have at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day . But unless this was a regular routine in your childhood or in your adult life you may not appreciate the value of it for your children. Exercise promotes a healthy weight, cardiovascular health, strong bones, reduces stress, helps diminish anger, stabilizes hormones in teenagers, releases the ‘happy’ hormone adrenaline, promotes talking time and bonding within the family, encourages the child taking up a team sport, making friends and learning a new skill. Your child will come home hungry and more likely to eat what you have prepared and be relaxed and ready for bed soon after dinner and homework.

Limit Television

30 minutes of children’s’ television makes their brain feel like they have done 8 hours of ‘work’, tired mentally and fuzzy. If they watch television after school this may prevent them having the motivation to want to exercise, reduce their homework and reading time. If your child watches television just before bed they will not have the ability to wind down their brain for sleep because their thoughts will be related to the program.

Read a Book Before Bed

Reading sensible, calm material is a lovely bonding activity just prior to bed. Discuss a practical time limit and reading material. Mem Fox, Australian Author suggests children be read to from birth. Teachers recommend children from the start of school be encouraged to read every night with a parent. The children who read the most books each week tend to be the smartest in the class. Do what you can and aim for a period of time that is practical for your family. Children appreciate one-on-one opportunities to cuddle up with a book, especially when they have siblings to share you with.

Enforce a Bedtime Routine

Children thrive on routine and predictability. Even if the timing goes off schedule sometimes it will help your child to have an order to the wind-down time before bed. Something like, afternoon tea/homework, exercise/sport, baths, dinner, finish homework, teeth, last drink of water, toilet, reading, stating your expectations for staying in bed (unless going to the toilet or other necessary reason), reminding of your agreed rewards and staying goodnight in a positive way. If your child comes out of the room they should be returned to their bed without speaking or answering any questions. Your child is asking for attention by coming out of the room. If they are feeling that they haven’t been receiving enough attention, any attention will do positive or negative. Our positive attention can be provided with the reading time before bed and other activities. We are refusing to play a game and reward negative behaviour.

Plan a Family Meeting

Your plan for an improved bedtime routine will need cooperation from both parents so the child cannot play one off against the other and one parent is not responsible for every bedtime.

Check for Worms

Worms prevent your child from going to sleep because they are irritating your child’s sensitive skin, increase the frequency of urination and bedwetting.

Other Tips

  • Rescue remedy is a homeopathic preparation that calms and relaxes the nervous system. It comes in a spray or drops and can be offered as frequently as needed.
  • Try music. ‘Music for Dreaming’ is a relaxation CD that encourages sleep and returning to sleep due to its gentle beat.
  • Sometimes child’s position in the womb, birth process or activity can cause their spine to be out of alignment, so seeing a chiropractor with a gentle hands technique can make sure the spine isn’t pinching a nerve and compromising the function of bodily organs and interfering with sleep.
  • Learning to deep breath and trying visualization of happy holidays and places can help take your child’s mind off their worries and think happy thoughts before sleep. Try a worry doll to talk to, or a gratitude journal to help your child acknowledge and think happy thoughts before bed.
  • Consider bullying or other problems happening at school, communicate your concerns with your child’s teacher, they will be able to watch your child and look for potential issues.
  • See a homeopath for a remedy to help relax for sleep, reduce known or unknown fears or address any other issue.

Use Rewards/Consequences

Consider star charts, jobs charts, positive behaviour charts. Ask your child to nominate the rewards for staying in bed, cooperating at bedtime and helping around the house. Ration weekend TV watching, computer time, iPods, favourite toys, play-dates, etc as consequences and rewards.

Encourage Role Modelling

Consider asking an older friend, cousin, neighbour about 12- 14 years to visit your child and make a fuss of their bedroom and the comfy bed and ask about the rewards you offer for staying in bed and sleeping all night. You can pay the older helper with a movie ticket and ask for a follow-up phone call to check up on your child within the week. Young children usually really respect and admire the teenagers and may listen to them over you.

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