Everyone knows that sleep is crucial for growing children and their mental and physical health. Regular, high-quality sleep habits help children consolidate memory and learn better. A lack of sleep contributes to childhood depression, anxiety and even risk of suicide, along with physical health problems including risk of injury. The challenge is making sure the kids log those precious zzz’s.
There is three main components of high-quality sleep for children. First, they need enough total hours – sleep duration. Sleep quality is also important – sleeping soundly at night with few interruptions or awakenings. Finally, there is Time to sleep – an essentially consistent schedule, with roughly the same bedtimes and wake-ups throughout the week.
Even when you know how important a good night’s sleep is, it’s easy to get your sleep duration, quality, and timing off the rails. This can happen for rare reasons, such as the pleasant chaos of a holiday or disruptions that accompany pandemic life. Healthy sleep habits are also difficult to maintain for everyday mundane reasons, such as parent-child discord, busy schedules, and older children’s laid-back weekend behavior. But there are ways for families to get their sleep back.
Like child development researcher and family therapist, I study parenting and family behavior which creating a healthy environment for children’s sleep patterns. Specifically, I help parents develop consistent and nurturing routines. Sleep patterns are set early, and parents play an important role in nurturing children’s perspectives and attitudes. Here is the top tip I share with families, regardless of the age of their children.
(Credit: Nicoleta Ionescu/Shutterstock) Adults can’t neglect their own sleep hygiene while expecting kids to follow the rules.
1. Establish and model family values about sleep
Children are observational learners. They pay close attention to both what is said and what is not said the rules of their clan.
In order for everyone in the household to sleep well, sleep cannot be something that only the children have to worry about, while adults who have freedom and authority they joke about their own unhealthy habits. If sleep seems like a punishment rather than the gift of health that it is, children are likely to resist it.
Adults should speak only for themselves and share that sleep is a priority for everyone in the family. Be a role model. If you’ve developed a habit of watching television in the wee hours, for example, work on curbing it. Use positive language about your own sleep. Pay attention to what you say and what you communicate through your own habits, stressing the importance of the whole family getting enough sleep and energy for the next day. Don’t make the mistake of discussing bedtime as an opportunity for adults to get away from children.
2. Know your child
Remember that every child is unique, so don’t expect one-size-fits-all sleep tips to work universally. To a child temperament plays an important role in the duration, quality and timing of their sleep. For example, a more active child may not adapt as quickly to a sleep schedule during the first year. And temperament is a pretty stable part of who your child is and will continue to be.
A parent’s job is to continue to encourage routines and set limits—but with constant warmth and sensitivity to the unique characteristics of the child you have.
When you’re exhausted and struggling with your child’s behavior, it can be hard to stay positive. My recommendation is to use the daylight hours wisely as an investment in your relationship. Be proactive in noticing the good in your child. Remind yourself that your child is their own person, learns in many ways throughout the day, and that child development is a marathon, not a sprint, for positive change. Sleep regression or other sleep problems such as night waking or changes in sleeping habitsare opportunities for growth, not punishment.
By laying this foundation, it becomes easier to benefit from a positive and respectful attitude during times of stress. Remind yourself that change over time is more important than control over a moment. After all, strained parent-child relationships can actually lead to persistent sleep and behavioral problems in young children.
3. Aim for consistency, with some flexibility
In my practice, I see two common—but opposite—mistakes parents make around sleep.
First, many parents completely abandon rules and boundaries. Often this happens as a result of what children bring to the equation: personal temperament or age-related phenomena. For example, the spike in behavioral aggression that can come in stride or the change in sleep time which comes in adolescence may cause some parents to simply throw in the towel and give up.
Alternatively, other parents become rigid. They see the conflict surrounding sleep as a power struggle that the adult must win.
I argue that balance is key. Parents need to adopt a consistent approach that fits the values of sleep that they have been clear about all along. But they also need to remain flexible to help children adapt routines to their own unique needs.
For example, all children of all ages should have a regular bedtime and wake-up time. However, parents may be open to a joint plan with older children about what that time should be, or to take cues and cues from younger children, working on a reasonable compromise that takes into account the needs of the individual child. A parent’s message about the importance of sleep should never be dismissed.
4. Manage household issues that affect sleep
(Credit: Odua Images/Shutterstock) Blue light before bed prevents the young body from relaxing.
Research shows that certain issues outside the bedroom pose an immediate and long-term risk to children’s sleep quality. They include exposure to secondhand smokeexcessive or evening time exposure to blue light from screens and conflict at home. Addressing these factors will likely pay dividends when it comes to getting your kids a good night’s sleep.
Good sleep hygiene is a family affair. It’s never too late to kick habits in a good direction and recommit to everyone getting the rest they need. Your child’s sleep habits can be a critical building block for lifelong health.
Erika Bocknek is an associate professor of educational psychology at Wayne State University. This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read on original article.