Bedtime is often one of the most stressful times for families, but we all know how important it is. So here are some strategies to ease the transition to sleep.
A safe sleep environment is crucial for babies, but it often seems uncomfortable to parents. They are reluctant to leave babies where we know is best: A, B, C – or Alone, on the Back, in a Crib. Parents need to realize that even young babies can figure out how soothe themselves to sleep. The best approach seems to be to put them down when they are drowsy but not fully asleep if possible. Then if they need to fuss a little to settle down, that’s ok. They will learn how to calm themselves. It is a skill, just like breast-feeding, that takes practice.
Older infants and toddlers
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A simple routine helps babies and toddlers know what to expect next, and helps ease the transition to sleep. A regular bedtime is also important and can happen by about 6 months of age. One idea that works well is summed up in the acronym “BBB” – Brush, Book, Bed (and maybe a fourth B, bath).
▪ Brush your baby’s teeth, or wipe off the gums if there are no teeth yet. By making a clean mouth the last thing before bedtime, you are protecting your baby’s teeth from cavities. Even breast milk can erode the teeth if it stays in the mouth during sleep.
▪ Reading a book is a great way to help your child transition to sleep, and the calm cuddle time with a parent is a special time to spend together. This is appropriate for young babies and remains valuable even when the child is old enough to read. Reading has many benefits for brain development, language development and school readiness.
▪ Put your child down to sleep when they are drowsy but not fast asleep. A blanket or stuffed animal can help the transition. Be calm and reassuring but firm and consistent in establishing bedtime. If your child cries for you, reassure them but don’t bring them out of bed.
Routine remains important in the early school years, and may get more complicated as the children age. Children can get overstimulated by active play, so try to transition to quieter games close to bedtime. Electronic media such as TVs and tablets are also stimulating, so it is best to keep those out of the bedroom. Have a definite “off time” for all TV, computers, phones, etc., preferably about two hours before bedtime. Homework, books and board games are good choices for later in the evening.
More tips on sleep can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting website, www.healthychildren.org.
Natalie Sollo, M.D., is a pediatrician with KU Wichita Pediatrics and WesleyCare Clinics.