Your Child Needs Sleep
Whether your child is 3 months old or 18 years old, sleep will be a major issue. Parents often assume that once kids start sleeping through the night, their worries about sleep are over, but the truth is that there are sleep challenges for kids during every step of their development. Consider these tips:
- Infants—Respond immediately to your infant’s cries, whether they’re during the day or the middle of the night. The definition of “sleeping through the night” for a baby is five to six hours, not the eight or more adults often get. Some children are physically capable of sleeping through the night around three to six months of age, while others will not be able to for another several months.
- Toddlers—Once toddlers get a “big kid” bed, it means they can easily crawl in and out of bed. Toddlers can wander around the house in the middle of the night (either awake or as sleep walkers). Ensure your child’s safety by locking doors and installing childproof gates so she doesn’t fall down stairs. Also teach her to stay in her bed or room during sleeping times—even if she’s not tired.
- Preschoolers—Night terrors and nightmares are common for preschoolers. They might wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of monsters under the bed or lurking in their closets. Take your child’s fears seriously and calm him down. Teach him how to comfort himself, such as snuggling with a stuffed animal or having a “power flashlight” that he can turn on to scare away the monsters.
- Elementary-age children—Typically, this is the easiest age when it comes to sleep issues, but some kids are more prone to sleeping difficulties than others. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. (Most kids at this age need 8 to 10 hours each night.) Be aware of sleep problems caused by stress, such as being picked on by a bully at school or the fear of missing the bus in the morning.
- Young teenagers—Due to their biological development, a lot of young teenagers become night owls. Negotiate with your young teenager about bedtimes and rituals to help her sleep. (Don’t be surprised if she wants to listen to music while going to sleep—music that most likely would not relax you.) Keep in touch with teachers and other adults who see your child during the day to make sure she isn’t nodding off or dragging through the day.
- Older teenagers—Although high school students are much more independent, they’ll experiment with cutting corners on sleep. While you can’t force your teenager to sleep, you can talk about the importance of getting enough sleep, creating sleep rituals that help him slow down and get to sleep, and turning off cell phones, computers, and any other devices that can keep a teenager up all night (or wake them in the middle of the night).
Remember that there will be some weeks, and maybe even months, when your child has great sleeping habits—and then, all of a sudden, you’ll find that you’re dealing with sleeping problems again. Whether your young child isn’t sleeping through the night or your teenager stays up too late and is exhausted throughout the day, you’ll see recurring issues. Be patient, and know that your child’s sleeping patterns will normalize—even if it seems like they’ll never stop having sleeping problems.