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Lynelle Schneeberg Psy.D.

The Two Parenting Mistakes You May Be Making at Bedtime

Sometimes parents do things at bedtime that may worsen their child's sleep.

The bad news: you may be making two common mistakes during your preschool or elementary-school child’s bedtime routine that could be keeping your child from sleeping well.

The good news: both mistakes are easy to fix!

Mistake number one: Staying with your child until he or she is completely asleep.

Parents often ask me, “Why does my child fall asleep quickly at bedtime but have difficulty staying asleep?” This issue is incredibly common and is most often due to the fact that you may be staying with your child at bedtime until he or she is completely asleep. Perhaps you don't leave your child's bedroom until those little eyelids finally close, even though you'd love to knock off one or two things on your to-do list or, better yet, watch some episodes of __________ (fill in your favorite bingeable show here).

Every parent knows the joys of snuggling in bed with their child. However, if you stay in your child's room each night until your child is truly and deeply asleep, your little one is likely to soon wake up again (as all children do at night, usually after a sleep cycle or two). He or she will almost always call you back to his or her bedroom (or show up like a silent little ninja in yours) because he or she only knows how to fall asleep when you are present.

Mistake number two: Granting too many extra requests after the bedtime routine is (supposed to be!) over.

If your child is like most other kids, he or she will make lots of additional requests or trips out of the bedroom after the bedtime routine is over. Your child might ask for “just one more...” story or hug. She might want many more escorted trips to the bathroom, or he might ask for another check under the bed or even ask to get up to have another snack. My daughters love theater, so I've nicknamed these extra requests callbacks (if your child calls you back to the bedroom) or curtain calls (if your child leaves the bedroom to find you).

You may think that if you grant all of these callbacks and curtain calls, your child will finally fall asleep. But in reality, granting all of these extra requests after lights out actually gives your child lots more of your attention which rewards your child for staying awake (not a great plan...).

How can you fix these two mistakes?

Make sure you and your child have a cozy, comforting and consistent bedtime routine with a very clear endpoint (maybe a final kiss on the forehead). Then leave while your child is still fully awake. Remind him or her to play or read quietly and independently in bed until drowsy enough to fall asleep.

If your child starts making callbacks and curtain calls, try using bedtime tickets to manage these. Bedtime tickets are just small cards that you give to your child as the bedtime routine concludes. These tickets can be traded for one or two final requests. You can make and decorate these with your child and can give your child one or two of these tickets just before you leave the room. If your child makes a callback or curtain call to ask for something, you can take the ticket and quickly grant the request.

These tickets are only good for a quick request (don't let your child use it to order a pizza, as one child tried to do!) and these tickets expire in five minutes or so. After the bedtime tickets have been used or have expired, remind your child that he or she has no more tickets but that he or she can play or read quietly in bed until drowsy enough to make the (solo) trip to dreamland. An unused ticket can be traded in the morning for a small reward.

This plan should allow you to cross off one or two of those things on your to-do list (but I think you've probably earned the right to collapse on the sofa and catch up on those seven episodes...)!

Wishing you and your children lots of good sleep!

Pixabay free image
Sleeping child with bear
Source: Pixabay free image

About the Author

Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., is a pediatric sleep psychologist and an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine.