1. Set the scene for sleep. Children spend half their time in bed so it is important that their sleeping area is suitable. They will be more likely to want to go to bed if their bedroom is cosy and inviting. Aim to create a bright, cheerful and attractive space. A messy or cluttered room is not conducive to rest. Smaller children will need help to keep their rooms tidy but this guided cleaning will pay dividents in the long run.
Help them make their room into a mini home which they can fill with their own possessions. Make their beds as attractive as possible too as this will entice them to slip beneath the covers. Colourful duvets and cute pyjamas and nightdresses are well worth buying because they will make bedtime more pleasant. Leaving their bedroom door open at night may help ease the separation from parents and give them a means of communicating with you. Remember that many children are afraid of the dark so a small light or a dimmer switch will combat this fear. Some children find silence scary so it may be a good idea to have a music box or some soothing background sound to help them drift away to the land of nod.
2. Enlist the help of a comforter. Most children have special bed toys or cosy blankets that are very much part of their bedtime routine. It may be a teddy bear with a half chewed ear or a soft favourite blanket that goes everywhere with them. Be sure to give these pride of place as they are vital sleep aids. It is wise to have replacements as well lest they need to be washed or are mislaid. Otherwise it will be difficult to get them settled down for the night.
3. Set clear guidelines about when they should go to bed. Decide in advance what time your children should go to bed and adhere to this. There may be protests at first but it will be beneficial for both your and the little ones in the long run. If you are a two parent family be sure to back each other up regarding bedtime rules. Children can be very good at exploiting any differences in opinion among parents. Even toddlers will try this trick so be warned.
4. Create a bedtime ritual. This should be a wind-down period to enable your children to relax and get in the mood for sleep. Begin it about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to get them to lie down. A bath followed by a warm milky drink may help. Create a sense of closeness by reading a story for them, allow them say goodnight to their favourite toys, talk about the day's events or recall happy memories. If there were any disagreements during the day do not let the sun go down on your anger. Make friends with them and tell them you love them.
5. Nurture a good sleeping pattern. One in five children aged one to three years refuses to settle down to sleep or else they wake up repeatedly throughout the night. One of the main reasons for this, say sleep specialists, is that they have developed bad habits. They wake in anticipation of receiving a snack, treat, cuddle or being brought into their parents' bed. You will need to break this waking up pattern which is not serving either of you (you especially! ) well. The secret to dealing with this issue is to draw up a plan of campaign well in advance. Then you will be ready to put it into force when your child wakes up. The aim is to allow your son or daughter to settle back to sleep so try to avoid lengthy or elaborate systems. A pleasant but unalterable bedtime routine is the key.
6. Aim for little successes. If your child is difficult to get to bed or is a bad sleeper do not set yourself impossible tasks, such as that he will sleep through the night by the weekend. It will be easier and more empowering if you work towards more achieveable goals. You could set yourself a target of getting him to bed by 8pm each night, for a start. Persevere, even if success appears to be out of reach. Eventually you will win, so celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Then, use your new found confidence to forge further ahead.
7. Be kind to yourself. If your nights are spent trying to coax a reluctant sleeper back into her bed or dealing with a cheery 4am riser then no doubt you are bearing the brunt of this challenge. Lack of sleep will make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed and sometimes everything will seem too much to handle. Try to get whatever sleep you can, whenever you can. Enlist the help of others for babysitting purposes or maybe a family member with a good success rate in getting children to sleep, and more importantly, keeping them asleep, could help as sleep wardens. Pamper yourself too, any treat will raise your spirits and give you the strength to keep going.
8. Reward good behaviour. If you are dealing with a sleep shy child and you achieve a little success be sure to reward him/her. Rewards can be used a positive reinforcement for modifying negative behaviours. Also, rewards will help to keep the child motivated over a long period of time. Rewards can vary in nature from privileges, things or activities. Experts say rewards are more meaningful when they are given with positive words. Rewards can cost little or nothing but can be very effective. Simple ones could include going to the park, playing on the swings, staying up a bit later, going out for an ice cream or spending the night with friends or grandparents. Older children might like to help plan a day's outing or choose something special for dinner, or eat out.
9. Deal with nightmares. Many children experience unsettling dreams and end up feeling upset and awake. When comforted they are usually reassured and drop back to sleep. Studies indicate most nightmares experienced by children tend to be about monsters, wild animals or spiders. Some of these may stem from daytime stress or scary scenes in books or television programmes. It is always a good idea to be careful about what children are watching in the run-up to bedtime and to avoid exciting or upsetting activities as they may prepare the body for action. A good winding down and relaxing routine beforehand is the perfect recipe for getting to sleep.
If your child is distressed following a nightmare comfort them by holding and soothing them. Stress that this was only a bad dream and it is all over now. You could also turn over their pillow, saying that the cool side is free of nightmares! Having a dim light in the room may help them realise they are safe.
10. Try to downplay sleeplessness. This is easier said that done, particularly if you are not getting much sleep night after night and your nerves are frayed. Making a big deal about the issue can do more harm than good as the more attention you give the problem, the larger it can loom. Avoid major discussions during the night with a sleepless child about why they are awake or keep waking up. Otherwise you will both end up cranky and tired. Everything seems much worse in the middle of the night or when you have had very little sleep.