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Bedtime Habits

For many parents and children, bedtime becomes a conflict of wills. Challenges like “I don’t want to go to bed yet,” “Do I have to go to bed already?” and “Why can’t I stay up a little longer?” are common. So how much sleep do children really need?

Generally, elementary-school-aged children need at least nine hours of sleep. Preschoolers need ten or more. More is always better. Children deprived of nor­mal sleep for even one night will frequently become irritable and tired. Children deprived of normal sleep for several nights will show personality changes and learn more slowly.

Getting children into bed and then getting them to stay in bed can be a daunting chore. For families that struggle with a bedtime ordeal, the following sugges­tions may be helpful:

  • Have the same bedtime routine at the same time every night. If children are permitted to stay up later on the weekend, it should not be more than an hour later. Any more than that throws off the body’s natural sleep-awake pattern.
  • Try to limit physical activities, caffeinated soft drinks, scary movies, or computer games right before the bedtime routine begins. They tend to be stimulating.
  • A structured order for putting on pj’s, having an evening snack, story time, and prayer time will create a comforting atmosphere of routine and predictability. Try to keep each activity within a consistent time frame night after night.
  • This is an excellent time to read a Bible story, sing a hymn, make up special prayers, and perhaps review memory work.
  • After the routine is over, tuck your child into bed—that gives a feeling of security. Give a final kiss, turn off the lights (except for perhaps a night-light), and leave the room.
  • If your child comes out of the bedroom, he or she needs to be walked back into the room and put into bed again. This is not the time for one more story or an “I forgot to tell you . . .”
  • If your child is very upset and can’t relax, a brief back massage and soft words of assurance may be quite helpful. Soft relaxing music may also be comforting.
  • If your child becomes quite emotional, do not lie down with her or him. Lying down to calm your child will only reinforce the acting-out behavior. To calm a troubled child, sit on a chair in the room, but do not engage in conversation.

An evening that ends in calmness and structure, cen­tered on prayer, brings about a restful night’s sleep. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

From Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Fujikama, Pixabay (used under Creative Commons CC0)