Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and member of The Goddard School Educational Advisory Board, offers four ways to help children fall asleep.
- Improve the odds of bedtime going smoothly by not starting the lessons until the child reaches four to six months of age. Starting too early will teach your child to cry, not to sleep.
- Be patient and give the process time to work. It takes adults an average of 20 minutes to fall asleep, even though we’ve done it thousands of times, and that’s when our sleep hygiene is working reasonably well. Many adults, especially parents, need a bit more time to fall asleep. Keep in mind that children may experience similar challenges.
- Some crying is nearly universal at bedtime. Putting your child to bed when already asleep to avoid the crying might cause him to be disoriented when he wakes up in the night, which he will surely do. You’ll be up yet again because he hasn’t learned how to put himself back to sleep, just to cry for you.
- Through your routine, children will learn what happens next, so put them down when they get drowsy, sit down near them, using occasional light touch and your voice to soothe when the pacifier pops out and they have to put out the effort to find it, which is just what you want to them to be able to do in the middle of the night. It’s the wise parent who then says goodnight softly and leaves the room. Some crying may ensue, so wait for a few moments beyond what you think you can stand, then go back in briefly to reassure the child (and yourself) in the softest voice and touch you can manage. In a matter of weeks, research reassures us that your small student will be on the path to being able to fall back to sleep on his or her own.