Q: I have been having problems getting my preschool child to go to bed. She constantly wants me in the bedroom, and I wind up going back and forth trying to comfort her. Is there anything you can suggest that will make the process easier?
A: Bedtime can be difficult for preschoolers. Both parents and children can be tired and impatient after a long day. When going to bed, children are trying to assert their independence but remain fearful of being on their own. They can reduce some of their anxiety by controlling their parents by constantly demanding they return to the room. That delays children’s fears of being alone during the night. Remember, at this age children are fearful of many things – bugs, thunderstorms and bogeymen hiding under the bed.
Remain calm but firm when interacting with your preschooler. Don’t engage in power struggles. When it’s time for bed, expect her to comply.
If you have been sitting in your preschooler’s room until the child falls asleep, begin to teach her to fall asleep alone. You may need to reassure your child that you will check on her in five minutes to assure her that you’re still nearby.
Also think about your child’s temperament and what she needs to calm down so that she can fall asleep. Ask her what would make things better. For instance, sometimes falling asleep with music or a flashlight on can help.
Here are some other ideas for making bedtime smoother:
- Develop and stick to a routine. Bedtime preparations may be different for different children based on their temperaments, likes and dislikes. What the routine includes is less important than being consistent with it. Having both parents agree on the routine will help the child feel calm and safe. Also, give notice to your child before you begin the ritual each night.
- Offer choices at bedtime. Let her decide which story to read or which stuffed animals to sleep with. She may wish to express her independence through these preferences.
- Talk over your child’s day. Your child may miss you during the day, so leave some time before saying goodnight to talk about her day. Connecting with parents in an atmosphere that has been calm for at least an hour before bed may make falling asleep easier.
- Motivate with rewards. For some children, it can be effective to offer a small reward for going to bed on time three nights in a row. Perhaps suggest a reward such as a trip to a store or playground, reading a new story together or receiving a sticker.
Learning to fall asleep and stay asleep alone is an important skill for preschoolers. It ensures that that they not only get enough rest but also begin to develop confidence to remain alone at night in their rooms.