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Sleep Mystery Solved

Help Your Child Love His Bed

How do I get my 5-year-old to go to bed and stay there?

That is a great question, and one almost every parent asks at some point during their children’s lives. General consensus dictates that 5-year-olds require nine to eleven hours of sleep per day. A healthy sleep routine may take some time and effort to establish, but a routine now will shape excellent sleep habits for life.

First, look at the current bedtime routine. Is it around the same time every night with a typical pattern? Both are essential. Pick an appropriate bedtime and stick to it – yes, even on the weekends. Bedtimes need to be non-negotiable. You need to establish two times, one to begin the bedtime routine and one for lights out. It’s important to remember that children thrive with repetition and routine.

Create a routine that your child can have some autonomy over and be consistent. You may want to create a chart with the three steps every child needs to do at night: change into pajamas, brush teeth, and use the potty. Independence comes in by allowing your child to choose what he will do first. If your child bathes at night, this is the perfect precursor to that routine. Post the chart on the bathroom mirror, and reference it several times as you adjust to the new schedule.

Next, create a simple routine for the bedroom. Five-year-olds can be great at extending their bedtime with pleas for one more book, a drink of water, or one more song. Set up what you are willing to do and what time allows. Perhaps two books and one song would work. Stick to this so that your child knows what to expect. This helps when babysitters put your child to bed as well. Everyone should know the routine and stick to it.

Then, set the mood for bed with expectations, and give a kiss goodnight. Soft music or a nightlight may help. Blackout curtains create a darker room. No toys in the bed is a good rule. Difficult as it might be, pleas for one more book or cuddle need to be met with a firm limit. After all, would you acquiesce and give one more dessert when asked? That same consistency has to be in place for healthy bedtime routines. If you love how affectionate your child is at night and want to make your time with him last, start your bedtime routine earlier to get in some good cuddles.

If your child consistently gets up out of bed, you need to address this with firm limits, too. Take an impartial look at why your child is getting up: Too much noise in the house? Is there a fear? Sometime in the past, has getting up resulted in extra privileges such as sleeping with mom or enjoying extra TV time? If so, let your child know that it’s time for a change as he is getting older. Make it be a positive situation. Clearly state the expectations. Make his room safe, and stick with the limits you have set. If he does get out of bed, gently redirect him back to bed, but do not engage with him in any way. Your child may test this for a few nights, but once he understands that nothing happens other than going back to bed, the behavior will stop. A sticker chart may reinforce this new routine with positive reinforcements along the way. (Award the sticker in the morning after a successful bedtime experience.) If your 5-year-old is still napping and bedtime is a challenge, it may be time to eliminate the nap.

Finally, if you continue to have concerns over your child’s sleep habits, check with your pediatrician and get her advice.

Denise Noble is a mom of two and has master’s degree in counselor education. She is affiliated with, the parenting education arm of Greater Richmond SCAN, and has coached parents and worked with families for nearly twenty years.
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