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How to Get the Kids to Bed

Save yourself worry and sleepless nights.

When little Eric came into the world, he was welcomed by two anxious parents who picked him up every time he cried, day or night.

Bedtime quickly became a circus, with Eric holding out while Dad and Mom held on. No one had told them that most babies cry for a while before falling asleep. They thought they'd done something wrong, so they picked him up and tried again.

On a good night, Eric fell asleep around 10 p.m., only to be up again several hours later. This went on all night. In the morning, his parents looked like something the cat had dragged in. Eric, on the other hand, was always rarin' to go. After two and a half years of this, he slept through the night for the first time.

When Eric's little sister Amy was born three years after Eric, his parents decided they did not want a repeat of Eric's bedtime -- or lack thereof.

At 8 p.m., Amy was nursed, burped and put to bed. She usually cried for five or 10 minutes before falling asleep. If her crying became intense or lasted more than 10 minutes with no sign of winding down, one of her parenmts would check in on her. More often than not, finding nothing amiss,so they rubbed her back just to let her know they were still there, and left. The happy result: Amy slept through the night when she was only two months old.

Get the Facts

Want your baby to sleep like Amy, not Eric? While there's no guarantee, here are the facts about some common myths about bedtime:

MYTH: Everyone in the house should be deathly quiet while an infant is asleep.

FACT: While a baby sleeps, life in the family should go on at its usual volume. Soon the baby will become accustomed to your normal noise level and will be disturbed only by sharp increases from this baseline.

MYTH: You should leave a baby alone to "cry it out" at bedtime.

FACT: If an infant needs reassurance, provide it. The more available you are during the first year, the more secure and independent the child will be.

On the other hand, you needn't respond immediately to an infant's every call for attention. Rushing in every time children cry is just as extreme as making them "cry it out." A middle-of-the-road approach, such as we took with Amy, is most sensible.

MYTH: Young children shouldn't go to bed before they're tired.

FACT: A child's bedtime is for the parents, not the child. For your own sake, set a definite, early bedtime and stick to it. Do not try to wear an infant out by staying up long after reasonable people have gone to bed. As the evening goes on, a baby gets more agitated and difficult to put to sleep.

MYTH: Children who sleep with their parents are more secure, happy, and self-reliant.

FACT: Children who sleep in their own beds learn that they are individuals with clearly separate identities. When they know that their parents sleep together, without them, kids learn that marriage is the most important relationship within the family.

They also learn that separating from parents is not an awful thing. The bedtime routine sets an important precedent for other separations, such as being left with a baby-sitter and starting school.

There are, however, times when allowing your child to sleep with you is harmless. A sick child, for instance, may need the added tender loving care of the parents' bed. You might also make an exception during any family crisis, especially one involving major loss, trauma, or transition.

MYTH: Older children have fewer bedtime problems.

FACT: Bedtime problems can occur with children of any age. But you can limit the number of times they get up. For an older boy of four or five, who has a million excuses for getting out of bed, you must again establish a definite bedtime and tucking-in routine. As you leave his room after the tucking-in, put a large plastic bracelet over his doorknob. This gives him permission to come out of his room one time. When he does, he "pays" for it by handing you the bracelet.

The first time he comes out of his room, take the bracelet off the doorknob and put him back to bed. This time, as you leave the room, don't put the bracelet on the doorknob. No bracelet means he can't get out of bed. If he breaks the rule, he loses an important privilege (going outside, watching television) the next day.

This method meets the child's desire to stay up with the big people almost halfway. With consistency, it should pay off within a few weeks.

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