Stress-Free Parenting Part 4: Taking Control Of Bedtime

For many of you, this might make a lot of sense. For others, like my client Joana, bedtime is the most stressful time of the day for her and her family.

When I walked into Joana’s apt, she welcomed me with a big hug and said, “I hope that you can help me with putting my kids to sleep… last night I was screaming so loud both my kids and my next door neighbors must have thought I lost my mind…”

Joana has a daughter who is 6 and an older son who is 10. After talking to Johanna for 15 minutes, it was obvious that the stress she experienced at bedtime wasn’t just about her kids.

I knew that while she wasn’t looking for therapy, she needed some guidance and coaching not just with putting her kids to sleep.

I was honest with Johana and told her that since she asked for help with putting her kids to sleep, I would start with helping her in that area, but I also suggested we work on helping her deal with other stresses. 

As a first step I told Joana she needed to understand the following:

  1. She is 100% responsible for her emotions.
  2. She has the ability to control her thoughts. 

She, as many of my clients, looked at me like I was an alien, which I expected. But when I told her with confidence that thousands of my clients thought the same and changed their mind, she was open to the idea that maybe there is hope for her.

The following are the four tips that I gave her regarding reducing stress at bedtime. Since Joana was a pessimist by nature, I suggested  she recite to herself (and to me) that it is possible to have a less stressful bedtime routine.

When she first did it, she felt ridiculous and convinced me that it could never happen — but after reciting it three or four times she started laughing and I could see she was changing her mind. She also asked me if I was willing to come one night to observe her while she’s putting her kids to sleep and I agreed. I gave her the following as homework to practice before our following meeting and she promised to document her progress.

  1. Create a bedtime routine that kids will follow every night.
  2. No electronics after 7pm
  3. No sugar after 6:30 (for more about foods to avoid before bedtime, click here)
  4. Play slow music or sounds to create a relaxing environment. Some parents prefer books on tape, which is also a good alternative.

Joana worked on these four steps consistently and started making progress. Once she realized there were concrete things she could do about relieving stress surrounding bedtime, she stopped fearing it so much.

So Many Of Our Children’s Problems Can Be Solved With More Sleep

One of the biggest problems plaguing children today is a lack of sleep. Once children enter middle school and go on in until high school, they are usually involved with social activities, involvement in sports and other clubs and also dealing with a great deal of homework.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends children ages 6-13 get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a night. Teenagers should get between 8 and 10. So many studies have found that school children do not get enough sleep at night, and the consequences affect everything from their school work and athletic performance to their overall health and well-being.

For one, not getting enough sleep has been proven to lead to things like unhealthy eating habits. A lack of sleep can cause acne, as well, at a time when teens are already experiencing a surge of hormones. Things like forgetting facts and things they’ve studied can lead to poor performance on tests and increased anxiety. Poor sleeping patterns can even contribute to things like ADD/ADHD.

The truth is, though, that sometimes making sure your child gets enough sleep is very difficult. Particularly if your child suffers from anxiety over social issues or school work, sleep can be hard for some. Busy schedules and packed weekdays can cause our kids to struggle to get everything done – craving a bit of downtime before they fall asleep at night.

It’s important to stress how vital sleep is with your kids. Make sure your kids understand the need for a routine, even as they grow older and start handling more responsibilities. Things like caffeine and too much sugar can alter children’s sleep schedules. Also, making sure your kids stick to a routine is helpful for making sure they are getting the recommended amount of sleep. Encouraging your kids to shut off all electronics at LEAST an hour before bedtime will help them fall asleep easier.

I find it’s helpful to recognize signs of lack of sleep with your kids. If your kids are acting out or seemingly more irritable than usual, if you are having big blow ups at night over homework or tears about little things or if you notice your child is starting to struggle in a subject that once seemed manageable, pay close attention to how many hours of sleep your kids are actually getting at night. Sometimes, things might need to be eliminated from a schedule. If too many sports and activities are causing exhaustion, it might be time to cut back. At the same time, help your child understand that sleep is not a punishment. It’s simply something that keeps their bodies and minds functioning at full capacity, especially at a time when their bodies are growing and changing so rapidly.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists contact me or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you!