Q: My three-year-old is experiencing night terrors almost every night. It’s making bedtime difficult, and none of us are getting much sleep. How can I help?
A: Night terrors can sometimes be mistaken for nightmares or bad dreams, but in this case, your child is not actually frightened or even awake-she’s sound asleep and in a zone between two sleep cycles, somewhat stuck for a few minutes. When it passes, she’ll resume the cycle in the same place she left off before it was interrupted. Your child is not only unaware of what’s happening, she also won’t remember the episode in the morning.
As a parent, your natural response when you see your child frightened is to hold and comfort her, but this may just result in waking her up and prolonging the episode. If she gets out of bed, you can try to lead her back, and if she’s sitting up, you can try to guide her to lie back down. Your goals are to keep your child safe by preventing her from falling out of bed or down the stairs or banging into furniture.
An erratic sleep schedule can contribute to night terrors and possibly to nightmares as well. Aim to have your child in bed at the same time every night and see if this reduces these nighttime problems. Eventually, she’ll simply outgrow her night terrors.
Q: My three-year-old gets up at an ungodly hour-sometimes before 6 a.m.! How can I get her to sleep later?
A: Very often an early-waking child is doing so out of habit, and it may take a few weeks of consistent changes before you see a new wake-up time emerge. Be patient and try the following:
Q: My daughter, who’s seven, still wets the bed on occasion, especially if she’s sleeping somewhere new. Should I be concerned that this is still going on?
A: The most common reasons for bedwetting are biological: Your child’s kidneys aren’t sending a signal to her brain when she’s asleep, her bladder hasn’t grown large enough to last all night, or she sleeps very deeply. Most often, as children grow, all of these conditions are self-correcting, but for a child older than seven, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. To help your child stay dry at night, try the following:
Q: My four-year-old recently started refusing afternoon naps, but he’s always cranky by dinner. Should I put him to bed earlier or insist on the nap?
A: From the moment your child wakes in the morning he’s slowly using up the benefits of the previous night’s sleep. he wakes up refreshed. but as the hours pass, little by little, the benefits of his sleep are used up and an urge to return to sleep builds. But sometimes there’s nothing you can do to get your child to nap, resulting in a fussy child prone to tears, temper tantrums and whining.
If this is the case, try instituting a “Hush Hour” in place of a nap. This is a quiet, restful hour that takes place in a relaxing environment. Sleep is not required, but the downtime often brings about the restorative effect, much the same as a nap would. To assure your child that the Hush Hour has a specific beginning and end, set an iPod or clock radio to play soft music for one hour. Tell him that he can get up when the music stops. If you’re lucky, he might even fall asleep during that time and not even notice when the music ends.
Q: I find myself arguing with my kids (ages nine and seven) every single night about getting ready for bed. There’s a lot of yelling and tears, and this is not how I’d like us to end the day. How can I make bedtime less of an ordeal?
A: At this age it’s important to have very clear expectations and to stick to them. For example, if bedtime is at 9 p.m. it should not be 9:15 on night, 9:30 the next and then an unhappy parent complaining on the third night since the previous nights’ inconsistencies have become the rule rather than the exception. You also need to plan other important parts of the day: If you discovered that homework hasn’t been done at 9 p.m., then bedtime is directly affected.
The key to ending bedtime battles is to create a consistent, predictable bedtime routine that is appealing to your kids. This pleasant routine should take an hour from start to finish and should be quiet and dimly lit. It is important to start the routine early since rushing the process creates tension.