(BPT) - As a parent, do you dread the evening hours because bedtime is such a struggle? Do your children do everything they can to delay turning the lights out? Do they experience fear and anxiety when you leave the room? These all-too-common scenarios play out in countless households every evening, leaving Mom and Dad wondering what they can do to help their kids get the sleep they need without a flood of tears.
Toddlers need an average of 12 to 14 hours of sleep. But, two-thirds of all children younger than 10 experience one or more sleep problems at least three nights a week, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Difficulties range from stalling or resisting going to bed to snoring and sleepwalking. Desperate parents are left frustrated as they simply want their little ones to get the sleep they need.
'Kids really need to have that sleep in their bodies to have enough energy to make it through the day, think smart thoughts and grow properly," says Jennifer Waldburger, a family sleep therapist from Sleepy Planet and consultant for The Jim Henson Company's Pajanimals children's series, which airs every night on 24-hour preschool television channel Sprout and Saturday mornings on NBC. 'The idea is to get the child to visualize the process, to understand that it's normal, healthy and OK to fall asleep.'
Establishing a regular bedtime routine is key, says Waldburger, and anyone putting the child to bed must be on that same schedule. 'Stay consistent. Make sure you stick to that routine and schedule,' stresses Waldburger.
Some simple steps that can be part of a good bedtime routine include:
* Quiet, calm play on the floor. Avoid stimulating toys that are noisy or have flashing lights.
* Rocking and reading story books. Try making up a story together that feels very calming and relaxing and happy for a child. Sing together or listen to calm music.
* Start a favorite ritual, such as saying good night to the stuffed animals or the moon.
* Turn on white noise such as a fan.
* Offer a transitional object and a brief cuddle before leaving the room.
A transitional object is something your child can use to feel safe and comfort himself - such as a small blanket or stuffed animal - and that reminds him of you. It can be especially useful during times of separation, such as at bedtime.
To thwart your child's worries about going to sleep alone, try using a transitional object, such as a small stuffed animal starting around the age of 1. Recognizable objects can help provide a high level of comfort, although what the child ends up choosing is up to him or her. For example, a new super-plush line of cuddly stuffed animals based on the beloved characters featured in the Pajanimals show may be the perfect transitional object for your child, helping to make bedtime a calm and comforting experience.
'It's in kids' job description to drag, stall, and delay bedtime as much as they possibly can, play with trains a little longer, basically do anything but actually go to sleep,' Waldburger says. 'Parents need to be sure kids stick to the plan. They can sing a song about brushing their teeth, putting on PJs, or getting a drink of water. Be lighthearted about it, but it is Mom and Dad's job to keep things on track and get to bed on time.'
Check your local listings for the Pajanimals TV show schedule.