Most parents can trade war stories about their kid's bedtime. Christine Althoff sits in her daughter Claire's doorway every night until she falls asleep. She's been doing this for more than five years.
Before her twin sisters were born, Claire, now 7, was rocked to sleep. In an effort to get Claire to fall asleep on her own, Althoff began sitting at her bedside. Time passed and she tried to work her way out of her daughter's bedroom, but the doorway is as far as she got.
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"I don't like it," Althoff, a Little Rock, Ark. attorney, says. "But I know that I created it."
Jennifer Waldburger, co-founder of Sleepy Planet, a Los Angeles-based child sleep consultation firm, says a battle-free bedtime is every parent's goal. But, she says, many parents fall short because they don't see the bigger picture.
The key in establishing a child's bedtime routine is to delineate between what your child needs and what she wants. Waldburger says, "What she needs is some time with you and good sleep. There's a whole war between a parent's head and heart that keeps them from doing [what needs to be done]."
The stakes are high. Insufficient sleep not only affects a child's development, behavior, and emotions, Waldburger says, it has been linked to a greater incidence of obesity.
Here are 10 tips for creating a bedtime plan that can help take the battle out of your kid's getting to bed on time.
How to Set the Scene and Create the Ritual for a Peaceful 'Good Night'
Make Sure Your Child's Bedtime Is Early Enough
Parents will often tell Waldburger their child doesn't seem tired at bedtime so they allow him to stay up longer. Big mistake, Waldburger says. "Once a child is overtired," she says, "a stress hormone called cortisol is released, which makes it hard to settle in and causes a child to wake up more throughout the night and wake up too early [in the morning]."
If your child is overtired, Nicholas Long, PhD, a child psychologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, says, it may actually take her longer to fall asleep. Moving her bedtime up by 30 minutes may get your child to bed before she becomes overtired.
Keep Your Child's Bedtime Consistent
Don't stray too far from what you establish as the appropriate bedtime, Waldburger says. Consistency is crucial. That means that bedtime stays the same even on the weekends and during the summer when days are longer.
And when your child does go to bed later than usual, try to get him up about the same time. Long says it's important not to let your child sleep in sometimes and not others so he doesn't start shifting his sleep pattern.