Advice Column, Child, Parenting, Toddler

Sleep and Your Pre-School Child

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  • Category Advice Column, Child, Parenting, Toddler

A lack of sleep is debilitating, and your pre-schooler’s disruptive sleep patterns can affect the whole family. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 need 11 to 13 hours of sleep a day, and also need a nap during the day. Establishing good sleeping habits as early as possible is recommended. One solution will not suit all children. 

For example, my eldest daughter slept well from a very young age. My younger daughter, however, struggled to sleep and we had to experiment to find ways to assist her.  

Some things to consider and which may affect your child’s sleep are:

  • Is your child getting enough exercise?
  • Is your child eating healthy food?
  • Is your child having sugary drinks of food before bedtime?

Recommendations for your child’s bedroom include:

  • Make this a calm area.
  • Temperature should be moderate. 
  • Beds should be comfortable and cosy.
  • Beds only to be used for sleeping and reading. No other activities such as playing, watching TV, using electronic devices.
  • Use muted lighting in the evenings.
  • When it is time for your child to sleep, the room should be darkened. Use blackout curtains if necessary. A dull light left on in the passage outside the room or a nightlight are alright if your child is afraid of the dark.  

To ensure your child gets enough sleep, try to establish a tranquil, predictable bedtime routine and stick to it. Your routine should be peaceful and pleasant.

  • Make sure there is a decent time period between eating supper and going to bed.
  • The house should be reasonably quiet.
  • Stop watching TV or using electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Ensure that not only bedtime but also wake up time occur at the same time every day, even on weekends! This will get your child’s body into good sleep habits.
  • Try a relaxing activity before bedtime, like taking a bath.
  • Allow your child to choose a comforter such as a blanket or fluffy toy to take to bed.
  • Play restful music.
  • Read to your child.
  • When your child is “drowsy but awake”, tuck them in, say goodnight and leave the room.
  • Don’t give attention to behaviour that tries to delay bedtime.

For the child that doesn’t stay in bed but regularly gets up to ask for various things, try and predict these requests and take care of them before bedtime. Make sure they have been to the bathroom, had a sip of water, said goodnight to family members or whatever other excuse is used. If your child gets up, immediately put them back to bed with as little attention as possible. Persevere as you might have to do this more than once! 

If your child wakes during the night, keep the room calm and quiet, reassure them and make sure they are safe. Leave the room and try to let them go back to sleep on their own. We have all lain down with our children to help them fall asleep, more often than not falling asleep ourselves. In the long run it is best to persevere and try to let them learn to fall asleep on their own.

Most pre-school children still need a nap or rest time during the day. This will give them some downtime and prevent them from becoming over-tired. After a busy time at school some recharge time is necessary. Having a fixed routine for nap or rest time makes it easier to enforce. 

Rewarding good sleeping behaviour can motivate your child to conform. Positive affirmation can be given for sleeping all night in their bed, going to sleep without getting up etc. Start with small goals and gradually make them more challenging. Make your rewards realistic. For example, a sticker for not getting out of bed, an extra story at bedtime or a visit to the park for sleeping through the night.

Perseverance and consistency will go a long way to helping achieve much needed quality sleep for pre-schoolers and their families.

By Brenda Fenner, Crawford Pre-Primary Fourways

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