Getting your child to fall asleep
It’s easy for parents to sing “Rock-a-bye baby …” at their child’s bedside. As a parent though, you certainly already know: Reality is often quite different with a small child. Learning to go to sleep and sleeping soundly is often a difficult time both for parents and children. Especially in the first year of life, the overall subject of “sleep” can be a trial for parents and child.
Refreshing sleep is particularly important for small children, because the land of dreams is where processing of new and learnt material takes place. But what do you do when your little one simply refuses to go to sleep at all? Or if falling asleep is especially difficult?
We show you how you can support your child in going to sleep, by means of bedtime routines and balanced sleep hygiene. These make going to bed enjoyable, so that there’s no longer anything to prevent more peaceful nights.
Why is sleep so important for my child?
Aren’t you sometimes amazed by how much energy a toddler has? Playing, frolicking, and at the same time learning. Children are naturally curious, and they love investigating our world – physically as well as mentally.
Children discover something new everyday, thereby learning. Regardless whether learning to count or training hand-eye coordination through clapping games for example: for toddlers that’s quite some information. And that information needs to be processed! This takes place above all in the deep sleep phase, well after the reading of the goodnight story, when your little angel goes to sleep peacefully in bed.
While children are asleep, not only their bodies unwind from the day’s exertions. In bed, important foundations stones are laid for the development of your child: What has been learnt is consolidated, impressions are processed, and physical processes are brought under control. Children certainly don’t learn to speak or walk from one day to the next: Muscles have to develop and the body, having been trained during the day, gets its rest at night. Without sufficient sleep, even the best language support from parents would probably be of no avail.
Why won’t my child go to sleep?
Is your toddler reluctant to go to sleep, or has he/she problems with falling asleep? To some degree, parents can help their children with this. Here it is important to clarify the reason for poor sleep or difficulty falling asleep. Especially for toddlers, there may be many reasons, such as:
Stimuli immediately before going to bed
Is the TV on? Is the radio rumbling away? Do you have visitors? These are all stimuli which keep our children on the go. And regardless how tired they are at the time: in these moments your child has become too excited to go to sleep.
Insufficient physical closeness
In its own bed a child can quickly feel alone and, especially at night, become afraid in its own room. Toddlers in particular need closeness to their parents, because they provide security. Before going to bed, a little cuddle with Mummy or Daddy helps here.
Children are very sensitive. If something changes in their usual environment, then they perceive this, and may become stressed under some circumstances. The classic: the favourite cuddly toy, which always sleeps in the child’s bed, is not in its usual place. There is great relief when the favourite cuddly friend is back in its usual place. Changes can also be minor things, such as a new detergent whose scent is unfamiliar to your child. In this case, one solution would be a garment worn by the child’s mother; this has a familiar scent and provides a sense of security. Otherwise, the following applies: Give your child some time to get used to changes.
A darkened room is important for refreshing sleep. Darkness causes the body to release more melatonin, a hormone which creates sleepiness. This applies both to small children and to their parents. The catch: Some children are afraid when all the lights have been switched off at night. This is where a small night light can help. It indicates “No need to worry, darling. You can sleep peacefully. Nothing’s going to happen here that you won’t see.”
Wailing and crying for no reason? Maybe your little one has an undiagnosed allergy to household dust, which settles easily in carpets and textile lampshades? With an allergy test, a doctor can very easily provide certainty about this.
No set bedtime routines
Set routines are a basic prerequisite for children to get the amount of sleep they need. There can be many types of bedtime routines, but all of them aim to prepare a child for approaching sleep. Further down this page you will find a few suggestions for bedtime routines.
Irregular day/night pattern
You don’t bring your little one to bed at the same time each night? This means that he/she can’t get used to a daily routine. There’s no need for parents to be exact to the nearest minute, but the structure of the day should not vary too much from one day to the next. Because: defined times and bedtime routines are very important for children
What are good bedtime routines for toddlers?
If you think back to your own childhood, you’ll certainly remember a specific routine that your parents or grandparents shared with you before bedtime. Going to bed and bedtime routines simply belong together. They signal to the body that the day is coming to a close, and so it’s slowly becoming time for rest and relaxation. That is true for adults as well as children. You probably know this all too well: On with the sweatpants and away with the daily routine. A change of clothing is a good example of a routine for an afternoon nap and in the evening, to tell the body that it will soon be bedtime.
Good bedtime routines might be a goodnight kiss or a song which you sing together with your child. A goodnight story is really good, because by reading a story you assist your child’s language skills. If you are religious, a short prayer together is also an option.
Tip: Playing together and sharing an adventure help your little one to forget the tensions of the day, and to power off for a while. Our Toddys also help you to encourage your child’s development at the same time!
What it sleep hygiene?
In addition to bedtime routines, sleep hygiene plays an important role when children are going to bed. “Sleep hygiene” sums up the conditions to be created for a good sleep.
It includes the following points:
- Room climate: Dry air can dry out mucous membranes and favour illness. Ensure that your child does not sleep in a room which is too cold or too warm – 16 to 18 degrees are ideal if the air is not too dry. Plants are a great tip for improving the room climate. However, for this you must ensure that they are beyond your child’s reach and are not poisonous. Also: a fan or air-conditioning unit has no place in a child’s room.
- The bed: Whether in their own bed, or in Mum and Dad’s night quarters, children’s bedding should be appropriate to their age. A firm mattress is the right choice for small children, and it should be free from hazardous materials. During your child’s first year of life, you don’t need to worry about pillows or covers. In contrast, toddlers love to snuggle into covers or sleeping bags.
- Sources of noise and light: Particularly when going to sleep, it is important that children find calm, in the truest sense of the word. This is because no-one can relax and fall asleep if there is roaring traffic noise, loud music, or even the barking of a dog. Turn down the sound on electronic devices, and close windows and doors to make it easier to go to sleep.
- Company while going to sleep: One option for getting children to sleep is to accompany them while they fall asleep Small children in particular need their parents’ support while falling asleep, so that they can unwind from the tension of their day. Going for a walk or carrying the child can help him/her to fall asleep quickly. This is no easy subject, because on the one hand children should fall asleep independently, yet on the other hand they need their parents to help them. As a mother or father, you of course know your child best and can judge this for yourself, but the usual rule is that young children need more support than older children.
Why won’t my child sleep right through the night?
You’ve created lovely bedtime routines, and you bring your youngster to bed, but is he/she barely asleep before waking again? No wonder, because Mother Nature has equipped our smallest family members with a type of early warning system. They wake up when their body signals that they have certain needs, such as hunger or the need for a clean nappy.
When we are older, our nervous system usually suppresses such stimuli during sleep, and so we have no problem sleeping through the night. That is not the case for small children.
If they are hungry, then they are going to let you know, so that you can react accordingly. In nature, this behaviour would ensure the survival of your child. It can take quite a while before small children sleep through the night. Our tip for you: You and your baby should enjoy the night together for as long as possible. This time is actually irreplaceable for the bond between the two of you, and later you will look back to it with happiness.
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