Children push limits and personally, I'm very glad that they do. Learning that it's safe to push limits encourages children to explore and experiment. The catch is that they have to learn where the actual limit is - especially if it has to do with their safety and health. One limit every child likes to push is waking up in the middle of the night to engage Mom and/or Dad. And not only is this irritating, but any reluctance to immediately and forcefully establish limits is both exhausting and damaging to your child. Parents must firmly and irrevocably establish this limit as one that cannot be pushed - although I do love that my children regularly try to negotiate a later bedtime. It's 7:30 for the baby and the 1st grader...the 3rd grader can read until 8:00. Seven days a week - very few exceptions (like going to a hockey game for his birthday...he can stay up - but the next night, 7pm to bed).
In the new book, NurtureShock, the authors aggregate studies on all sorts of parenting issues. Chapter 2 - The Lost Hour, is about the impact of losing sleep. For example, in a scientifically robust study by Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University of 77 fourth-graders and sixth-graders, Sadeh found "A loss of one hour of sleep [in three days - so that's 15-30 minutes per day] is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development." (emphasis mine - quote from Nuture Shock, locations 455-62 Kindle version). In other words, if you want your sixth grader to have the focus and mental acuity of a fourth grader, keep that child up 15-20 minutes late for three days. If you don't believe me, try it.
For a younger child, lack of sleep can permanently inhibit healthy brain development - linking chronic sleep deprivation (15-30 minutes less than needed per day - not a lot) to poor academic performance, emotional instability, obesity and ADHD. Yikes.
So what's a parent to do? The Jack in the Box method from Dr. Weissbluth's book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child works like a charm.
- Be loving and consistent with the bedtime routine. Only do it once per night. NOT AGAIN.
- First time your child gets out of bed (Jack in the Box), confirm that he/she is healthy and do not react negatively or positively. Simply walk them back to bed and put them in. No cuddles, no songs, no milk, nothing.
- Repeat step 2 as many times during the night as needed. Remember that a negative reaction reinforces behavior just like a positive one - they get attention and engagement.
The first night, you may have to do this 50-100 times. By the third night, your child will not wake you unless they are sick and truly need you. Which shouldn't happen more than 2-3 times PER YEAR.
My conversation this morning:
"My child kept waking me up all night!"
"He said he was scared."
"How old and how often?"
"Five and every hour from 1 am until morning - I'm wrecked."
"You are the problem."
It's not a question of parenting philosophy here - it's a question of your child's health and mental development. Friends who have tried the jack in the box method have told me I am certifiably insane after the first night...and by the third, I'm a genius. Well - Dr. Weissbluth is.
What technique have you used to teach your child to stay in bed and get enough sleep?