Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Getting up in time each morning so that she’s ready for school means that your nine-year-old should be fast asleep nice and early the night before. Yet there are so many temptations to keep her awake, such as television, her music, and her computer games. Most children this age would much rather have extra time playing at night, instead of following sensible rules about getting a good night’s sleep. And if she does stay up too late, you’ll pay the price for it the next morning when she is grumpy, behind schedule and in a bad mood.
You can be sure of one thing as a parent – no matter what age your child is and no matter what bedtime you suggest on a school night – your child wants to stay up later! And she may even insist that she is the only one among all her classmates who goes to bed this early. Don’t fall for this dodge. If you are at all in doubt about choosing a suitable bedtime, have a chat with parents of your child’s friends; you don’t have to do exactly what they do, but it’s worth listening to the time limits they have established.
Once you have selected the ideal time for your nine-year-old to go to bed during a typical school week, you should try to engage her cooperation to stick to it. You are likely to experience less confrontation each evening at bedtime if you are able to explain the significance of a good night’s sleep to your child. Emphasise the benefits that a predictable bedtime brings her personally.
Start with the health advantages, pointing out that sleep is essential for good health. Tell her that her growing body needs sleep even though she may not feel very tired – compare it to a car needing fuel. You can also mention that children who don’t get enough sleep often become irritable and don’t enjoy playing so much the next day. Help your child recall a time when she was so exhausted that she was grumpy and tearful – this helps her understand the significance of bedtime.
Then explain how bedtime should be looked on as an enjoyable time, not something to avoid. Explain how a regular bedtime gives her an opportunity to have a more relaxed activity in her room at night, such as reading, playing quietly in bed with a toy or listening quietly to music. Encourage your child to look on bedtime positively, as a change from the rest of the day. In addition, remind your child that bedtime matters to you, too, and that adults require a good night’s sleep as much as children. She’ll be pleased to know that you also have a regular bedtime, just like her.
And lastly, encourage your child to follow a regular, calm pre-bedtime routine. For example, this could involve her having a bath, getting changed into her pyjamas and then reading a book while lying in bed before her light goes out. What matters is that all the activities in this routine are relaxing so that she has little interest in distractions such as television, music or computer games. Get her started on the first stage of the routine well before bedtime, as this will avoid her having to hurry her way through it.
When she wakes up the next morning feeling rested, hungry and ready for action, let her know how pleased you are that she behaved so maturely. Spend time with your child at breakfast, and emphasise that you are only able to do this because she got up promptly when you woke her.
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