By Nandita Prakash, Education Advisor
Parents of young children especially in the age group of 1.5 to 6 years often stay worried about the child’s disturbed sleep patterns. While the reasons can be many, the concerns are very specific and grave. A lot of researches have proven that lack of sleep or irregular patterns of sleep in young children can adversely affect their mental and physical growth. Their cognitive abilities decline and even IQ can get damaged. Since in the first five years of a child’s life, brain development is at its highest speed, any adverse effect can led to severe damages.
As a parent, a lot of you must have heard of the phrase “children are like clay, you can mould them the way you want to” and yet most of you already know how difficult it is. But you don’t have to worry anymore. Childcare experts across the globe have successfully devised research based techniques to induce a proper sleep pattern in your child’s life. Based on several theories of child psychology, these techniques empower you to maintain bedtime discipline at home and also gives you some time for yourself to relax.
Before we know the techniques, we must also understand various reasons which can disrupt child’s sleep patterns.
- Sleeping late night due to parents/TV/Phone etc.
- Frequent illness and uneasiness
- Separation anxiety
- Late and heavy dinner
- Slept for more than 2 hours during the day
- Sharing bed with the parents
A very important pre-requisite for a child to develop good a sleep pattern is physical detachment from both the parents. It can be another bedroom or another crib/small bed beside the parent’s bed but not in it. It is a must and here are the reasons for it –
- For better hygiene for the child as the child’s bed is less prone to infections than adult’s bed. It is easy to sanitise a small crib/bed than a king size bed.
- Child’s immunity improves incredibly. Becomes less irritable and cranky
- Child will have less disturbances during sleep and will gain more physical development
- Child’s self-awareness will increase and he/she can show signs of independence a lot earlier that his/her peers.
- Parents will get time for themselves, feel stress free and bond better as parents and hence will contribute more
- Can sleep before parents and gain more number of sleeping hours and match their bodily requirements.
If you haven’t already started to make your child sleep in a separate bed, let us first begin with these exercises.
- Once you have identified the sleeping area for your child, decorate it with pillows, bedcovers, cushions, curtains of his/her favourite colours.
- For first 3-4 days make the child take his/her favourite toys to the new sleeping area. Play with the toys and let the child familiarise with the new area.
- Try to time the play time in the new area a little before the child’s usual bed time.
- For the next 2 days, let the child jump and play on the new bed. Engage into a pillow fight, play with soft toys. Towards the end, start to read a story book to child.
- Next 2 days reduce the playing with toys but keep one toy to comfort the child and continue the pillow fight and book reading. This time while reading the book, make sure that the child is sleeping in his/her new bed. Most of the kids fall asleep at this stage
- If the child still doesn’t sleep, keep sitting in front of the child and insist on him/her laying on their bed and leave only when the child is asleep. Initially this can take 1 hour but subsequently it will reduce to only 15 minutes
- Keep explaining to the child that everyone has their own bed and they must sleep only in it.
Most importantly, do not use any phone, TV or I-Pad during this entire process for quick results.
After the children realise that sleeping in the new bed has become an everyday activity now, they will find reasons to crawl back to your bed. They will apply all sorts of tactics to bend you emotionally and even try your patience. But remember that consistency is the key. Kids should know that sleeping in their own bed in the only possibility and not in your bed. Here are some ways in which you can be persistent.
Case 1 – After you tuck children in the bed with kisses and hugs and smiles, they come out crawling/jumping out of the bed. Take the children back to their room, dim the light and tuck them in again. This time wish them good night with a faint smile and come out of the room. The next time they jump out of the bed, take them back again and tuck them in but with no smile this time. Every time after this that they jump out of bed, should be tucked in again with no smile. Do not get angry or show any signs of anger. Just be emotionally neutral and don’t talk till the child gets bored/tired and gets to sleep. The first day, this can go for long but do not lose patience. Next day onwards it will be better as the kid will no longer find any interest in jumping out of the bed when you also do not give any reaction.
Case 2 – Children after a while will understand that you tuck them in bed and then have fun later. So they would try to come out of their bed to see if you are having fun behind their back. If this is the case, then keep TV/phone/music system switched off and sit quietly in the living room till the child is finally asleep. You will have to do this initially to break their perception about you having fun behind their back.
While most of the kids start showing positive results in first three days only, some of them can take 5-7 days. Meanwhile, please remember not to give any special considerations during weekends or celebrations while the kids are getting into the habit. It will reverse the process otherwise. Keep other members of the family informed about your strategy and ask them to not intervene and try to pamper the child in the middle. Explain them the benefits of having the correct sleep habit and I am sure they will extend their full support. Go ahead and try these tips and you will surely set this right!