Q: Last week we answered a question about the challenges of getting children to sleep at a decent time after a more relaxed summer schedule. Following is the continuation of the answer.
A: Children and teenagers cannot comprehend how critical sleep is to overall physical and mental functioning.Studies show the importance of sleep in maintaining concentration, abalanced appetite, and optimal wellbeing.
“But I’m not tired,” your child whines. “Maybe you won’t be able to sleep, but at least you can rest your body,” you can respond. (Remember last week’s tired arms and legs?) This might get the recalcitrant child into bed, and then, who knows?
Another technique that often works with young children is asking them to turn onto their sides, facing the wall of the room (if the bed is adjacent to the wall), and close their eyes. Then, even if they open their eyes, all they will see is an uninteresting wall.
If parents seem very enthusiastic about the prospect of sharing time with their children, reading or playing a game at bedtime is often very effective. But if a child is generally oppositional, other approaches can be more helpful. (Oppositional children derive more pleasure from being oppositional than from responding to a parent’s enthusiastic requests.)
Children can be rewarded for attempting to let their body rest. Youngsters become excited at the prospect of toys and rides; use this to your advantage. If a child is rewarded by being complimented at bedtime, by stickers, charts or the promise of a fun activity the next day, this incentive can make the transition between awake-time and bedtime less stress-provoking. Hopefully, the rewards will eventually not be needed, as “mitoch shelo lishmah, ba lishmah” — beginning with ulterior motives will lead to pure motives, and the child will get used to going to sleep on time and without fuss.
Ask your pediatrician how much sleep is needed by children of a particular age.
When it comes to older children who persist in telling you that they don’t need so much sleep, one evening tell them they may read a book in another room (no other activity will be permitted) and go to sleep half an hour later. The next day, pay close attention to their waking state and ability to function in school. Did less sleep cause a change in general behavior? If school performance suffers due to lack of sleep, then a more appropriate bedtime hour needs to be re-instated.
Stress that going to sleep is not a punishment. Overtired (and, often, unruly and annoying) children may think they are being punished for their behavior by being put to bed. As in all situations, explaining the connection (or lack thereof) between an action and a consequence (preferably before the fact) is most beneficial.