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July 27, 2010

When Routines Aren’t Enough – Alternative Options For Better Toddler Sleep

Filed under: Parenting Tips — Tags: , — Erin @ 6:00 am

Guest Blog by Susan Long

Child Sleeping Tips

Child Sleeping Tips

While difficult routines and erratic sleep patterns are expected early on, sleep problems in older toddlers and young children are harder to understand, predict and manage. Once you eliminate illness, lack of routine and troublesome milestones such as teething or growing pains, it’s hard to know where to turn next.

Be realistic

Like just about everything with small children, it can be a case of trial and error until you find something that works for you and often, solutions need to be incorporated into the child’s usual routine for some time before really taking effect. So, be patient, realistic and remember that it would be abnormal for your child to sleep perfectly, every night of their childhood; some minor sleep problems must be expected.

Alternatives to medicines

There are 1001 solutions offered by all kinds of medical and non medical professionals and parents can be forgiven for becoming a little skeptical but some attract more anecdotal (and scientific) evidence than others. Some of the more popular ideas are:

• A large serve of protein and a glass of milk before bed makes for deeper sleep
• Avoid cheese at bedtime to avoid nightmares
• An organic diet or a diet free from artificial preservatives and other “numbers” minimizes the risk of chemical hyperactivity
• Low GI cane sugar alternatives can keep moods stabilized and prevent bedtime tantrums
• Massage relaxes muscles and minds
• Gentle, rhythmic stroking or patting can help induce sleep
• A chamomile tea bag on the pillow and a pep talk about how it’s magical in inducing sleep is enough to induce sleep
• Lavender, Melissa, Jasmine, Neroli and Sandlewood dabbed on a pillow can induce sleep
• A mirror on her bedroom furniture will kill a monster under a bed
• Finding the source of any noise or light and eliminating it is the quickest way to kill a ghost
• Bed time hypnosis tapes, specifically designed to enhance sleep can work after several weeks
• Favourite pajamas and bed clothes pre-cuddled by parents (leaving a parent’s smell) makes for a more relaxed child.
• CDs containing rhythmic ocean sounds or the sound of an engine humming can induce better sleep.

These “quick fix” options are often not enough for children with serious sleep issues but anecdotal evidence suggests that they may help.

When the worries of the world on her little shoulders….

worried

Too Worried to Sleep?

Determining why a child won’t sleep can be almost impossible but parents of sensitive or emotional children may find that their child has something on her mind that is causing sleeplessness. This may also be helpful during stressful life events such as a new sibling or troubles at home.

Try incorporating a “worry time” into the bed time routine. Ask her about her day how she felt about its events. Discuss anything negative at length and help her to find a solution or better understanding. Once she indicates that she feels better about her worries, close the worry time (this can be done symbolically with a hand movement or prop such as a “worry box”). Tell her that she shouldn’t think about her worries any more for the day and introduce a fun, favorite bed time story, free of negative emotions or scary themes.

When life is too wired for sleeping….

For some children, the world is far too interesting and too exciting to waste time sleeping. It is up to parents to literally make life a little boring around bed time but if your child is passionate about her favorite sources of stimulation, this can make things worse and even turn excitement into over tired tantrums. It’s time to fight fire with fire.

Consider DVDs and computer games designed to be part of a bedtime routine. Many of your child’s favorite characters feature in stories about routines and bedtime and there are even dedicated programs designed to do nothing but put a child to sleep. The BBC broadcasts In The Night Garden, a program targeted at babies to 4 year olds where characters relive their day and then go through a bed time routine – it is extremely effective in moving children into the calm and sleepy mode. And of course, ensure there are plenty of books available to her to encourage quiet time, in lieu of play.

When she’s a bright spark

During the day, you’ve probably switched to media, activities or games that involve higher levels of physical activity in a hope of exhausting an energetic child. With the growing obesity problem, many games and TV producers now offer “get up and get involved” versions of kid’s favorites to burn that physical energy away but for bright children, brain activity can cause sleeplessness too.

Finding the balance between mentally tired and over stimulated can be tricky. For children who can’t help but lay awake thinking about stuff (as opposed to worrying or feeling fearful) try introducing an educational afternoon activity. Learn a new skill or visit somewhere interesting in the early afternoon and help your child to fully explore what they are seeing and experiencing. Ask questions, look at examples, and practice difficult words or aspects of the activity until she has a thorough understanding of it. Once her attention begins to wander, change to physical play to clear her mind and burn any extra energy ready to start her bedtime routine.

It’s hard not to feel completely helpless when a child struggles with sleep issues. Always consult your doctor and consider joining a parents’ discussion forum to gather ideas and get emotional support if things get hard.

Author Byline

Susan Long is a mother of three difficult sleepers and a wife to one snorer! She spends her nights looking for inventive ways to keep kids in bed and her days finding inventive solutions to keeping families happy at Rent To Buy

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