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Parents, children and bedtime battles
Kanchan Apte
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October 05, 2006

It's 10 pm. Time for two-year old Veda to get to bed. Her mother Madhumita Das  dreads this time. She knows her daughter will get cranky, cry, yell and throw a tantrum to avoid getting to bed.

Sounds familiar? Are you one of those parents who have a tough time putting their child to bed? If you are, this should help.

The importance of sleep

For a child, sleep is probably as important as food and water. Sleep requirements differ from one child to the next, depending on age, levels of physical activity and other factors. "In general, a one to three-year old needs almost 12-14 hours of sleep a day," says Dr Parvati Halbe, a Pune-based paediatrician. Three to six-year olds need an average of 11-12 hours per day, with some children needing a nap in the afternoon. "Sleep loss can drain energy levels, making the child moodier and irritable."

A child who sleeps well also performs better, in school and outside, than a child deprived of sleep.

What about non-sleepers?

Many children fight sleep; they may be cranky, they may rub their eyes and yawn repeatedly, but still refuse to lie down. These children want to be part of the action. They may see an elder sibling painting or a parent reading a newspaper, and want to do something too. It is necessary to cultivate the habit of bedtime, says Dr Benjamin Spock in his book Baby & Child Care, The One Essential Parenting Book. He recommends that once your baby is three or four months old, you try and put her to bed while she is awake, so she slowly learns to sleep on her own.

Fighting bedtime battles

Follow a bedtime ritual: A change of clothes, bath, books and bed, so your child knows what to expect. Also try and put your child to bed at the same time each night. A bath, brushing of teeth, change of diaper and a story can help your child adjust to the fact that it is time to sleep. Allow your child to hold a special blanket, stuffed animal or other favourite toy as part of the bedtime routine.

Be firm

Kids often manage to manipulate during bedtime. Try and stand your ground if your two-year old cries or pleads for an exception to the rule. Even if you're frustrated, tired and have millions of things to do, don't engage in a power struggle.

Offer choices. Pre-schoolers love to make independent choices, so offer them some options,. Let your child make choices whenever possible at bedtime. Let him pick out his story or pyjamas, for instance. This doesn't mean he can decide when he wants to go to sleep, of course!

Allot some leisure time. Don't expect the child to fall off to sleep the minute you tuck him in. Sit by his side or lie down beside him and talk about his day. If your child isn't old enough to talk, just hold, kiss, cuddle or sing to him. Many children consider it a good time to have their parent's exclusive attention.

Do not argue or shout at the child, or with another adult, before putting the child to bed. This will be upsetting, and they will be too concerned to fall asleep. Give your child plenty of attention and affection before bedtime.

"Sometimes, with all the stress we are under, we hurry our children off to bed so we can relax or complete chores," says Alka Chandragiri, mother of five-year old Vedant and seven-year old Neharika. "Vedant refused to sleep until midnight, and spent the entire evening crying. We realised we needed to get him to bed early as he was sleepy after 9 pm." Setting aside all chores, Alka lay down next to the children with a book and her son was asleep within minutes.

Make sure your child has eaten properly: If he hasn't eaten well, he will find it difficult to sleep, prolonging the battle!


If your child goes to sleep peacefully, he or she is also less likely to get up frequently at night or wet the bed. For most pre-schoolers, the cause of bed-wetting is simply that the child has not yet learned how to stay dry at night. Make it easy for your child by ensuring he uses the bathroom before going to bed and encouraging him to get up at night if needs to use the loo. "Do not shout or blame the child for wetting the bed," says Dr Halbe, "instead, tell him this is not the right way and help him overcome the problem."

According to her, in most cases in this age group, it is a behavioural problem (bladder control, stress, strain, deep sleep) rather than a medical one.

More tips to ease bedtime battles

Sing to them: You needn't have the voice of a nightingale, your children don't really care. Your voice soothes them and is an indication of a sense of security for the young ones.

Adjust bedtime according to school timings, even on holidays: Adjust bedtimes at least one to two weeks before school begins, to make it easier for children to adjust to school schedules.

Make sure your child has enough physical activity, fresh air and outdoor games to ensure she is tired enough to sleep well at night.

Get your child ready for bed before her ideal bedtime: Get bedtime rituals over with before your child is starting to slow down and get physically tired. If you wait, she will become more difficult to handle.

Don't plan late evenings and nights with your child too often.

Keep the bedtime routine simple, consistent and short. Do not try the patience of your child by including long baths, creams and long bedtime stories.

Keep lights dim as bedtime approaches. Make sure the child is comfortable in his or her bed.

Limit television and other 'screen time' (computers, video games).

Give your baby a transitional object, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, to ease the transition from being awake to falling asleep.

Are you a parent? Share your tips on how to win bedtime battles, peacefully.

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Number of User Comments: 16

Sub: Bed time battle

Dear Kanchan I agree with you. I have two kids. I have the same problem which you have mentioned in your article. Your tips are ...

Posted by Durga

Sub: Bedtime

Bedtime is always a challenge for me every night.With 3 boys,15,13 and 8 years.The eldest being in his teens feels he is too big and ...

Posted by Jyotsna Walia

Sub: regarding sleep

I have seen your message and found satisfactory. I am 27 years old, How much sleep can I spend daily. please intimate me as soon ...

Posted by suresh

Sub: Good

It was a very Good article , thankyou very much.

Posted by Pranav

Sub: Nice one.

These kinds of messages make us rethink what we are losing due to our hectic workload. Better childhood will lead to the better citizenship. Topic ...

Posted by Krishna Kireeti


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