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Bedtime Routine

How to Make Bedtime the Best Time

It’s not unusual for children to balk at bedtime. There’s so much to do and see that children may resist sleeping even though they may be tired. For some children there may be other issues, such as fear of the dark. And, for children who wet the bed, there may be the worry that they won’t wake up in time to avoid an accident.

Tammy Gold, a New York-based psychotherapist, acknowledges that a dread of bedtime is not unusual for older children who experience nighttime wetness after age 5. "Before age 5, kids don’t really understand that everyone doesn’t wet the bed," Gold says. "After age 5, about 25% of all children still wet the bed, and that drops to 10% of 6-year-olds and becomes progressively smaller as children get older. At some point, they understand that wetting the bed is a problem for them and they may allow it to negatively impact their view of bedtime."

The Best Bedroom

Gold says dealing with the dread of bedtime shouldn’t just be a function of what to do at night. Rather, a parent needs to sit down with the child, explain that he knows that the child’s nighttime wetness is something that she has no control over and let the child know that Dad and Mom want to be her partners in dealing with it. This may mean doing some specific planning for bedtime bliss — and what better place to start than with the room’s decor?

"Children really feel attachments to various characters they see in their favorite shows or movies," Gold says. "Take the child and pick out some sheets with a favorite character and get some pajamas to match. If you can get or make a chart that also has the characters on it, that’s great. Make the child’s room a place that’s really appealing to her and where she is happy to go to bed."

It may be a good idea for parent and child to make the child’s bed together.

Relax and Reflect

Aileen McCabe-Maucher, a registered nurse and an adjunct faculty member at Delaware Technical and Community College, says bonding at bedtime is a great activity. She shares this tip with families she counsels to make bedtime a positive time for children who wet the bed: Create a special bedtime book and enlist your child's help in its creation. The bedtime book can include pictures of your child from birth through the present day. The book should include positive, affirming statements about your child and your family, but the focus of the book should be on your love for your child and your child's strengths and talents. Photos of friends, favorite foods and pets are also great additions.

Visualize Together

Lonna Corder, a parent coach in San Francisco, CA, says teaching children breathing and visualization is rapidly becoming the method of choice for helping children cope with stress and overcome anxiety. Before bed, have the child take several deep breaths from the abdomen, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Have the child visualize each body part in turn, beginning with the feet, and "feel" each of those parts and imagine them relaxing.

Corder also recommends yoga for children, for its emphasis on relaxing poses and breathing techniques. "The key is reducing anxiety, and these are proven techniques for doing so both in adults and children," Corder says.

Additional Strategies

In addition to those specific techniques, experts recommend the following strategies as part of lifestyle change to be sure that the child’s post-school, pre-bedtime home life is dedicated to avoiding stress and overstimulation:

  • Look at your child’s schedule. Corder says if he is in so many activities that he doesn't arrive home until late, consider cutting back so the child is home at least two hours before bedtime to have that unwinding time.
  • Turn it off. Television, video games, computers and other electronics should be restricted at least two hours before bedtime. All of these activities can lead to overstimulation and result in the child’s inability to relax and get into a healthy sleep mode.
  • Do not forbid fluids. Rather, monitor fluids after a certain time and watch what they drink during the day. Gold notes that most children don’t get to drink much during the day because they are in school. Then, the first thing they often reach for when they get home is a soda. Encourage lots of water and non-carbonated/unsweetened beverages up until several hours before bedtime, then gradually cut back, allowing only water, and less and less of that as it gets closer to bedtime.
  • Make sure to have a good night-light for your child's path to the bathroom so it’s not scary for her to get up and go.
  • Help your child organize her bedroom and keep it that way. Corder says that children feel soothed when there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  • Have a routine of reading books or singing songs before bed. It helps kids to know they have certain things to look forward to at bedtime.
  • Always tuck your kids in and tell them you love them. If ever there was a recipe for sweet dreams, that may be it!

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