Today I came across this question on a social network:
"Can anyone offer any advice on how to handle a 3 year old who screams bloody murder every night before bed?"
I'm approached for bedtime tips fairly often, so today, I thought I would share an expanded version of my response:
Without having a good sense of what a typical routine is before bed-and how many people are in the house, etc., and speaking in general terms, it would be helpful to first pinpoint & find out why is she is screaming. Is she afraid of the dark? Does not want to be alone? Is it a stressful time of day? Or maybe her day was too full-at school or daycare all day and needs some mommy/daddy time.
I find that a simple, un-rushed but regular routine helps to prepare kids for bedtime and helps them wind down. This could include a bath, laying out clothes for the next day and then a story, (one story only!) Don't be afraid of simple structure here-it helps kids feel supported and safe-event though they may test you and rebel every so often. Consistency and patience are key.
Some other quick bedtime activity alternatives are:
- doing a simple coloring activity (for 3 year olds, simple geometric shapes, rainbows or animals are just fine!)
- a brief, gentle massage (hands and feet or scalp usually work well.)
- a small snack with some protein-chicken, cheese stick, yogurt, nut butter, etc. and a few slices of vegetables or fruit
- brushing/combing teeth and hair
- preparing lunch or snack for the next day
In addition, the following important details should be noted:
- give a "heads up" 5 minute warning-and use a timer. Do not cave and do not prolong this. Do not let them keep adding 5 more minutes- as it creates bad habits and a distorted sense of time down the road.(Allowing children to prolong bedtime like this also teaches them to not respect boundaries and they will expect you to do this all the time. Don't let this become a pattern or it will be impossible to break!)
- shut down TV and electronics at least 30 minutes before bed so the senses/brain can also calm down. TV & other electronics stimulate the areas of the brain that control our stress response-(Fight or Flight) and the brain/body needs time to regulate and shift to low gear after the adrenalin rush
- night lights are sensed by the eyes even while asleep and do not allow the brain/body to rest completely. Its best to not use them or at least be sure they are as dim as possible and not shining directly in the child's face.
- I discourage TV's and computers in bedrooms for the same reason. Remove them or unplug and cover them during bed/nap time.
- quiet, slow tempo (instrumental) music played on very low volume is OK and may help signal to the brain that its time for sleep
- furry family members (pets) should be moved out of the room so the room "quiets" down
- toys and clothes should be put away so that the room is "quiet" when bedtime comes. \
- follow through with consequences. If you have to ask several times to put toys away and go brush their teeth and your child continues to play, there should be a meaningful consequence, such as not reading a story because there is no time for one.
- A visual schedule is also helpful and is simple to make. Take photos of each step in the bedtime routine-(bath, brush teeth, comb hair, lay out clothes, story, lights out, etc.) and place each on a wall chart in order, or in a small photo album. When its time to do bedtime activities, lead your child though each picture-step. The next-to last step should be a brief but fun activity-(keeps them motivated to complete the other steps) and then "Lights Out" tells them its time for sleep.
It may take a few tries for the new routine to catch on, and they kids might test you. Be patient and stay calm. They will soon understand and be doing it on their own.
A word of caution though-experts say that it is also not good to over-help your child get to sleep. This is a skill they need to learn for themselves. Bedtime should not become a circus but rather a time to wind down and prepare for restful sleep. Over-helping creates a situation where the child becomes over dependent on the help and cannot develop the skills he needs to settle himself down and go to sleep at all. Read More : The Wide Awake Club
For more simple ideas on keeping kids calm, learn more about Barbara's Book, Calm & Connected !
Other Great Bedtime Books: