Kids Struggling To Sleep? 5 Helpful Tips (For Parents)

The lights are out. At last.

“I’m thirsty,”… “I can’t sleep” … “Something is scratching me.”

You Dads all know about the nocturnal antics we struggle with – how to keep kids in bed and asleep.

Before we get stuck in, I recently wrote a blog with tips for a calmer bedtime routine.

In this blog post, I’ll talk more about the issues once they are IN bed.

Most of this is for older toddlers and small kids, as small babies have their own unique needs at night.

My kid is taking too long to fall asleep

Most of the time, your child should take about 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. So it’s exhausting for us parents when we have to repeatedly go back to their room or sit with them for 30 minutes or more.

Here are some common reasons why your child might take a long time to fall asleep:

  • Too much sugary food or screen time before bed
  • Not enough wind-down time before bed (reading, listening to music, etc.)
  • Fears and anxiety
  • Too much daytime sleep
  • In toddlers, too little daytime sleep
  • In toddlers, learning a new skill
  • Unpredictable routine

So what can we do to survive these loooong nights?

Well, depending on what you think the root cause is, you might need to change your meal plans and adjust your evening routine.

You might also need to consider changing the time your kids go to bed; it could be too late or too early for them.

If your child naps too late in the day or is a young toddler and has too many broken daytime naps, they will likely struggle to sleep. Slowly bring your bedtime forward or later to help your child get to sleep.

And sometimes, we just need to lower our expectations of what evenings should look like.

Sleep training isn’t always the answer. Some kids will need longer snuggles or reading time, or to be checked on often to help them fall asleep.

My kid is waking too early

A 5 am wake-up on the weekends is not the ideal way to start the weekend for most people.

In general, early wakings are caused by bedtime that is too early. Slowly try to shift out your kid’s bedtime by 10 or 15 minutes each day.

You may also need to transition to shorter daytime naps or drop the nap altogether.

Though, brace yourself if you plan on dropping a nap – you need to be armed with patience and compassion 😅.

Your child may also be hungry. At dinner, try to give your kids a balanced meal with healthy fats and proteins to keep them full for longer.

My kid wakes up often during the night

We expect babies to wake frequently during the night.

But I hate to break it to you – for many kids, waking once a night and calling for help or for the toilet is common.

It’s actually pretty normal to wake up once or a few times during the night.

Even as adults we can wake a couple of times, but we have mastered the skill of going back to sleep by ourselves.

For kids, they need help to learn how to get back to sleep. This requires a lot of patience and repetition from Dad and Mom.

Your children might be struggling to stay asleep because they are:

  • Overtired
  • Hungry
  • Cold
  • Nightmares
  • Rely heavily on sleep associations (pacifier, white noise machine, mom or dad, etc.)
  • Bothersome socks, pajamas, or pillow
  • In toddlers, learning a new skill
  • They need the toilet (Take your young kids to the toilet just before you go to bed to avoid bed wetting)

My kid won’t sleep in their own bed

This issue has parents and childhood experts divided.

For some families, it’s not a problem having the kids in the parent’s bed. It works for them.

But for other families, it is important that each family member stays in their own bed – especially as kids grow older.

Here are some ideas that might work for your kids:

  • A predictable bedtime routine with your kid starting off the night in their own bed.
  • “Fading” – This is where Dad or Mom gradually fades during the “going to sleep” phase. From sitting on the bed, to next to the bed and then eventually a kiss goodnight and out the room.
  • Reward system – 5 nights in their own bed results in a special treat.
  • Help them learn to set up a bed on the floor next to Mom or Dad to transition out of your bed.
  • Shifting your own attitude – it takes patience and taking them back to their own bed over and over… and over.

My kid has nightmares

Dreaming – good and bad – is a normal part of sleep.

But hearing your kid screaming and crying during the night can be deeply unsettling.

It’s important to know the difference between nightmares and night terrors. Firstly, they happen at different stages of sleep.

  • Nightmare: These are scary dreams that children wake up from, and they remember the dream.
  • Night Terror: Kids often move, talk or cry but are asleep. They won’t remember the bad dream.

Experts warn to never wake your child if they are having a night terror as this can be very unsettling for them. As hard as it may be to hear your child crying in their sleep, let it pass.

If your child wakes after a bad dream, be careful not to ask too many questions about the contents of the dream as this could frighten them again.

Rather start off by offering comfort and reassure them that they are safe with you.

Try not to downplay the feelings – a bad dream can feel very real. Rather, let them know you understand their fears.

When they have calmed down, ask them if they would like to talk about the dream.

The next day, you may like to gently revisit some issues that came up, like:

  • Interactions they had with other kids at school
  • A toy or show that might have frightened them
  • Monsters (reassure them that these are make-believe)
  • Something they saw out the car window or while walking in town

Common causes of nightmares are anxiety, stress, or fears.

Overheating during the night can cause restless or bad dreams. Sleep experts suggest that a child going to bed too late will be more likely to have nightmares.

If you find that your child is having nightmares or night terrors every night it is probably a good idea to visit your family doctor or pediatrician for advice.

Thanks for reading.

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