Parents put kids to sleep with consistency
January 10, 2009
If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you might have insomnia. Or you might have kids.
Parents have rocked screaming babies, policed sleepovers and scolded recalcitrant teenagers since the dawn of, well, dawn. Adults find eloquent expression for their frustration in studies that show that sleep deprivation contributes to depression, attention deficit disorder, obesity, and poor performance in school.
What do kids do in response? Yawn.
But the case against sleep deprivation is real, according to Dr. Joyce Gerber, a specialist in early childhood development and education. If children don’t get sleep, they’re cranky and argumentative. They struggle to focus and turn to tantrums.
"Actions that get attention get repeated," Gerber said. "If you give attention to tantrums, you’ll get more temper tantrums."
Gerber hosts four child development winter workshops this month at the Summit County Library’s Kimball Junction Branch. The first, held last Thursday, focused on how to get children to bed.
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The best thing parents can do to win bedtime battles is to be consistent, she said. Establish a bedtime and enforce it. When it comes to procuring a good night’s rest, it is better to be feared than loved. "Parents want their children to love them or they don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings," Gerber said. They make undue exceptions, allow children to stay up late, and show weakness rather than force.
The more parents give in to kids, the harder it will be to put kids to bed. Kids are manipulative, Gerber explained, and tend to fight battles they can win. They like the taste of success. Don’t give it to them.
Rather than making bedtime into a punishment, turn it into a ritual where parents spend read, sing and talk with children. Reward good behavior by letting kids stay up later as they age.
Gerber recommends that infants and toddlers get about 12 hours of sleep every night. Kids seven, eight and nine need about 10 hours of sleep and high school students still require about eight hours of sleep.
What time kids need to get to bed depends on their ages. Tailor sleep patterns to when family members have to wake up in the morning. Infants should nap twice a day. Young kids should nap after lunch and wake before 3 p.m.
Naps should remain relatively short, about 20 minutes, to avoid corrupting cicada rhythms. Likewise, sleeping in takes a toll on healthy patterns established during the week. For anyone who doubts the importance of consistency, try waking a teen Monday morning after back-to-back days of snoozing until noon.
Sleeping patterns are interconnected and complex, especially for infants. When babies wake up sobbing, Gerber recommends parents wait five minutes before rushing to the rescue to allow the child to fall back to sleep on its own. "I don’t think you should let a child cry itself to sleep," she clarified, "but swooping in the second a child wakes teaches dependency." Infants need to learn, instinctively, to regulate their own rhythms without the aid of mom and dad.
Parents who allow kids to sleep with them eventually have to wean children from the family bed and into their own rooms. The transition is best done gradually, Gerber said. First, let children spend the night in a sleeping bag at the foot of the family bed. Move the sleeping bag closer to the door each night, until, finally, the child gains the trust and confidence to sleep on his own.
Still, it’s constructive for parents to take a hands-on approach at an early age. "Reading with children is a wonderful routine," Gerber said. Reading is only partially about the words. A parent’s warmth, proximity and scent play important roles in lulling kids to sleep.
For more information, visit Joyce Gerber’s website, http://www.teachingwithheart.net .
"Teaching with Heart" by Joyce Gerber
"Touchpoints: The Essential Reference" by T. Berry Brazelton
"Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep," William Sears
"The Family Bed" by Tine Thevenin
Schedule of workshops
Thursday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m.
Sensory Science: Science is all around us and sensory science experiences are an excellent way for young children to develop critical thinking skills. This workshop will encourage participants to allow children to be curious, move at their own pace to explore their surroundings, and use their most important tools their five senses.
Thursday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m.
A Parent’s Guide to Raising Smart Children: There are many ways parents can help their children become enthusiastic and successful learners. Participants will be given creative real-life tips that can be passed on to other family members. These techniques can be used to enrich children’s lives as well as strengthening family ties.
Thursday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m.
Physical & Intellectual Development: Children start life as physical explorers, taking information from all of their senses, as well as through motion. It is this total sensory motor integration that leads to learning. Each new level of mastery leads to new learning and new physical challenges. Participants will be given 16 activities covering physical, intellectual, language & literacy, and social/emotional development.