How to Develop Good Sleeping Habits in Children

Three Parts:Before bedtimeGetting to bedSeeking help where needed

Getting children to sleep can be a huge challenge for parents and an ordeal for the whole family. With a few simple steps you can help turn things around so your child and whole family are happier.

Part 1
Before bedtime

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    Make sure you know how much sleep your child needs. How much sleep people need varies between individuals, as well as by age. Young children may need up to twelve hours, whereas older school-aged children may only need nine. If your child is having trouble sleeping, they may be overtired by the time they get to bed, or they're going to bed too early for their waking time. Adjust your child's sleep and wake times accordingly, and consider limiting naps in the day.
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    Cut down on sugar. Sugar is a stimulant and children are very sensitive to it. Swapping their usual dessert for a low-sugar option such as a piece of fruit or yogurt can help. A pinch of sprinkles on an otherwise low-sugar option can help kids feel better about it. You could also consider allowing them a 'dessert' before dinner. This will help them sleep better and be less irritable at bedtime. Water is perfect for dinner and afterwards, so avoid juice or sugary drinks later in the afternoon and evening.
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    Watch out for food additives. Many children are sensitive to food colouring and additives. Allergies can also interfere with children's sleep time. Consider keeping a journal of what your child eats and how they behave; this can help you identify any problems and eliminate them.
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    Ensure that your child's sleep environment is comfortable. A clean room at a comfortable temperature with appropriate bedding can eliminate a lot of problems. A lot of children need a nightlight to feel safe and enjoy soft music. Talking to your child about what they like and getting them involved in organizing it can make their room feel more like their own safe place and therefore, help them sleep.
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    Organize everything your child needs before bed. Let them choose their blankets and a cuddly toy if they like, and have a glass or bottle of water ready by their bed. The idea is to ensure they don't need to get up and keep asking for things after they're tucked into bed.

Part 2
Getting to bed

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    Get your child into a routine. Routine is important for adults and children alike. It allows the body and mind to pick up on cues that it's soon time to sleep, as well as helping children feel safe. Plan your child's dinner time, bath time, wind-down time and bedtime well in advance, ensuring that it's the same time every day. Make sure they have time to do any homework or chores before their nighttime routine begins, and avoid the temptation to let them stay up late on the weekends.
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    Be sure to include 'wind down time' just before bed. This can be in the form of a bedtime story, some cuddles, or a quiet chat. Often bedtime is the first chance kids get to have quiet, one-on-one time with their parent/s, so be sure to factor anything they need into your routine.
    • For example, if their 'true' bedtime is seven thirty but they want some cuddle time, tuck them in fifteen minutes early. Be sure not to let this stage go on for too long; it's important for children to associate their bed with sleeping rather than play. This will help them 'switch off' when they go to bed.
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    Plan ahead for how to manage your child's feelings. Anxieties around monsters, nightmares and being alone are very common in children. Despite what some people say, your child isn't just being naughty or trying to press your buttons; their worries are very real to them and they deserve to have their feelings validated. Rather than telling your child that they're 'being ridiculous' and need to 'get over it', hug them and tell them you understand that they're upset, that everyone feels sad or worried sometimes, and that you're here for them. Taking the extra time to make them feel secure pays off in the long run. You can organize how to deal with specific fears ahead of time.
    • For example, if your child is afraid of monsters, make a 'monster repellant spray' out of water, lemon juice or whatever you like; just make sure it smells nice. Spray it under their bed, in their wardrobe, or wherever they think monsters may be hiding. Use this in conjunction with reminding them that monsters aren't real, and tell them this is 'just in case'.
    • If your child is afraid of a specific monster, find their weakness. For example, if your child is afraid of Medusa (the mythical Greek monster who turns people to stone) put a small mirror in your child's room and let them know that if Medusa were to appear, the mirror would turn her to stone.
    • If your child is afraid of burglars, give them a baby monitor or walkie-talkie so they can talk to you. Put up a fence, safety bars on the windows or whatever else will help to make your child feel safe.
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    Help your child to feel safe. If your child is upset, they may need you to lie down with them for a little while or have some warm milk in the kitchen. Kids, like adults, can get 'stuck' in a certain way of thinking and feeling, making it difficult for them to calm down. It's okay to take them out of the environment or lie down with them to help them calm down if they need it. Remember that making your child feel safe is an investment in their well-being, as well as future bedtimes; children who feel safe and loved are more likely to be able to sleep.

Part 3
Seeking help where needed

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    Get help if your child is having a lot of problems. They may need to see a pediatrician. Problems such as anxiety disorders can affect sleep even in children. Remember as well to get support for yourself; child rearing is a huge job and can be overwhelming. Watching your child distressed, as well as having interrupted sleep yourself, can wear you down. Sharing parenting and home care tasks as well as networking with other parents can help.
    • If you begin to get upset while looking after your child, it's okay to take a few minutes to sit down and collect yourself, even if they're crying. Just be sure you tell them what you're doing and how long you'll be gone for.


  • Remember that each child is different; it's okay to try different things.
  • Communicate with your children, even when they're little.
  • Follow through with what you say; don't tell them you'll be back in ten minutes and then not return. If they're asleep, give them a gentle hug or a kiss. This is important as it demonstrates to them that they can trust you.


  • If you're worried that you may lash out at your child, walk out. Don't return until you've calmed down.

  • Never leave a child, especially a young child, to 'cry it out'. This is both physically and psychologically dangerous. It's okay to leave them for a short time; tell them when you'll be back and make sure you return.
  • If you're struggling to take care of your child, get help. Speak to a doctor or call a parenting or general helpline.

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Categories: Better Sleeping | Child Care