Thursday, May 1, 2008

Solving Sleep Problems with Kids

As promised, I am continuing the series we started last week on getting kids to sleep through the night. I am one of the parents in this situation and I feel your pain!

Here's today's question from reader Julie:

"Our three year old drags out the bedtime routine, always asking for one more drink, to use the potty one more time, etc. She will cry when we leave the room, saying she "has problems falling asleep by herself" and comes up with more excuses, periodically calling for us. Throughout the night, she wakes up 1-2 times and needs help getting back to sleep.

Any advice on keeping the bedtime routine moving and convincing her that she can fall asleep on her own, both at bedtime and during the night? She falls asleep for naps with no problems, usually within a couple of minutes. We have tried moving her bedtime both earlier and later, with no success. I'm really concerned that she is not getting enough sleep at night and that she is establishing poor sleep habits, not to mention that we are tired :("

Pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Sarah Zallek says Julie's problem is very common. She recommends getting the book, "The Sleep Fairy" by Janie Peterson. It's a story that mimics the idea of the tooth fairy. It helps you set limits for your child and puts the burden on the fairy instead of the parent. It also encourages positive re-enforcement for good behavior instead of punishment for bad behavior.

Dr. Zallek said, "Each night you read the story "The Sleep Fairy." And if the child stays in bed, sleeps all night and gets up in the morning, without calling out for drinks or books, if they do that, the sleep fairy leaves a tiny little something under their pillow as a reward."

We are trying this at my house. We haven't bought the book because it is sold out everywhere, but we are going to order it on-line. We told my four-year-old the basic story concept and he did sleep one night. He got a plastic fishing pole with little plastic fish to catch. It cost a dollar. He has been showing it to his friends all week and telling them the sleep fairy left it for him. Too cute! Lets hope it continues to work!

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Rixblix said...

I don't know, Jen...rewarding a child for sleeping?

We run a pretty strict "behaviorist" home. And I know that what I'm going to say will sound rotten, but it worked.

My oldest was put in his "big boy" bed at 18 months because he'd learned to climb out of his crib...and crash to the ground! He's got a bleeding disorder so crashing to the ground was not a good thing! As soon as he figured out that he could get up and out of his bed of his own free will, he took advantage of it.

After weeks and weeks of midnight, 2AM, 3AM, etc...visits, we bought a baby gate. He would get put into bed and told that he could get up one time for a drink. If he got up more than once, we would have to put the baby gate up. And that's what we did. We told him that if he had a hard time sleeping, he could stay awake, but he'd have to stay in his room because Moms and Dads need their sleep.

The first two nights were tragic and involved much crying. But we only had to use the baby gate for about 2 weeks till he got the hint that bedtime was bedtime.

Comforting oneself and learning to fall back to sleep is a learned behavior. I often wonder if parents who both work have a more difficult time with sleep issues because of the guilt or need to spend more time with their kids.

I know, I'm cold hearted. But my kids - age 10 and 12 still go to sleep at 8:30. said...

Rix, I think you have good points. Everyone has to do what works for their family. My one-year-old is a great sleeper and always has been since he was about 7 weeks old. My four-year-old has always been a really bad sleeper. We tried the cry it out method dozens of times and it just doesn't work with him. I wish it did. He has night terrors and he just screams and screams and screams for hours. It is ridiculous. He also knows that when he has a night terror he gets attention for screaming. So, he also has bad behavior. It's a constant cycle. We get him to sleep for a week, then he starts having night terrors again and the cycle starts all over. I am sure there's something we could be doing better, but biologically, he is just a bad sleeper. I am sure of it. I will try just about anything at this point...

rachel b said...

I think that each family has to do what works for them. What works for one family might not work for another. I am a working mother and my husband also works full time. I personally think that our sleep issues with our 2 year old stem from the fact that my husband and I can't be up all night b/c we have to be able to function at work the next day. So if our son comes in to sleep with us at 3am, we look at it as at least we are all getting some sleep. Right now, that works for us. I don't think our sleep issue has anything to do with feeling guilty about anything.

Anonymous said...

Rix - I have to say that I'm totally happy to hear you talk about the Sleep Fairy. I love this book -- And it works great. My first daughter spent many nights in our bed. It did permanent damage to our quiet time together and put a strain on our sleep time too. It was darn hard to break her of this habit and it actually took a couple of years. I swore that my second daughter would NOT sleep in our bed. I heard about Janie Peterson and of the book she was writing at the time. She was doing a study for the Journal of Pediatric Psychology about it. I volunteered for the study. Boy did this work. You read the book each night (sometimes we only read the poem). If they stay in bed and do the things you lay out as your bedtime routine, in the morning, they get rewarded. It's not a bribe -- that would be if you gave them the prize BEFORE they do the thing you want them to do. The rewards we used were not always things you buy like the first couple things in the book -- those are just examples. I bought a bunch of stickers, stick on earrings, sheets of rub on tatoos and cut them apart or wrote little notes on star shaped paper (Good Job staying in bed! You get a piggy back ride to breakfast.) She loved that one! Anyway, Janie also wrote a book called Mini Methods or Madness that is complete genius. She has a day treatment center for kids that have bad behaviors and have been kicked out of daycare or school -- she knows what she is talking about! If you need to get the book it's on (her website) and it goes to a site called (her shipping company). It's in stock and ready to ship. And if you put in the promocode RIXBLIX she said she would set up a discount of 10%!

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