Conflicts between parents and their children at bedtime are common.. For adults, sleep is
welcome rest. For children, it's lost time, time when they could be doing something fun like
playing computer games or finishing a drawing of their cartoon hero. So the youngsters often
And in families where both parents work, the nightly
ritual of putting the children to bed
can be even more of a tussle. Most parents don't get home until at least seven in the evening, and
there's little slack between bath, dinner, homework and bedtime.
Whatever the situation, a growing child still requires a decent amount of sleep, and for
young schoolchildren and toddlers, that's between 10 and 12 hours a night.
But what happens when children fight it every step of the way, from taking a bath to putting
on pyjamas to getting into bed? When they refuse to sleep alone in bed or wake up repeatedly, or
need to be rocked for an hour before nodding off?
It's usually not hard to tell when a child doesn't get enough sleep.
"He can be irritable, whiny, more clumsy," says paediatrician Dr Leigh Shapleigh. "And
when a child has any sort of behavior problem, it is just
exacerbated by lack of sleep."
Children - especially small children - thrive on routine, so the more regular their bedtime is
the better it is for the entire family.
Exactly when a child goes to bed has to be, determined by the parents, Shapleigh says.
"The trick is to decide what you want to do. If you want the bedtime at 7.30 or 8.30 or 9.30,
decide how to get there."
Although many parents are consistent, the routine they adopt only results in long, wearying
nights. They become caught in a trap they have inadvertently created. Their children rely on
them to help get to sleep. Parents cajole, sing to them, rock them, rub their back
-- only to have the
little ones wake the moment they tiptoe out of the room. Quality time disappears, tempers are
short, and bedtime becomes a civil war.
To frazzled parents who want desperately to escape that trap, Shapleigh suggests the
method that worked for a number of families.
"You have to let them cry. Be there to reassure them. Leave a night light on, but be
consistent. They understand your behavior more than they do your words."
Dr Richard Ferber, a paediatrician who is sometimes called the Dr Spock of children's sleep
problems, assures parents that most bedtime conflicts are not serious, and they can be avoided.
Parents who choose to wait out their child's erratic sleep patterns will probably see them
disappear, but that could take months or years.
Instead of waiting, Ferber suggests that parents take action, and after following a pleasant
bedtime routine, put the children to bed, leaving them there even if they cry, but checking on
them at specific intervals.
"There is no way to treat this problem without listening to some crying, but you can keep it
to a minimum," he says.
Parents who are fighting the sleep battle with their children often complain of being tired,
but forget that their children, who haven't yet learned to complain, are also tired.
"It is in your child's best interests to have uninterrupted sleep," Ferber says.
For children as well as adults, Ferber says, "sleep (serves) some restorative function for our
bodies and perhaps for our minds, and it is certainly necessary for normal functioning during the