Sleep, and the lack of it, is a big issue for many parents, and can cause a great deal of unnecessary stress. But there are things you can do to help and here are our tips for making bedtime less of an ordeal.
1. Make their bedroom special. Make it their room and involve them in the design if at all possible. It's nice if they can have a hand in choosing furniture and colour schemes (within reason - “please can I have that bed like Cinderella's coach and gold leaf on the walls?" may be a step too far for most parents) but even if your budget doesn't run to that you can involve them by putting up their drawings, or letting them choose art for the walls that they like - this doesn't have to be expensive, I bought cheap perspex frames from Ikea and framed cheerful postcards. Not all children are lucky enough to have their own room - but try and give each child their own space within a room, with storage for their special toys.
2. Stick to a bedtime routine. It's tempting just to let your demented toddler wear themselves out and fall asleep on the sofa - but trouble can ensue later when they wake up having been deposited in their own bed. Stick to roughly the same bedtime every night, and the same routine - maybe a bath, a story and a cuddle, low lighting in their bedroom and quiet voices.
3. Keep putting them back to bed. Don't get drawn into debate on the landing. The first time you can say, firmly, “no, it's bedtime - back to bed, now. " Say goodnight, and exit, stage left. After that, don't engage in conversation at all - just lead them, gently and firmly, back to bed. You may have to do this a great many times - and it's hard if it's the middle of the night and you're half asleep - but stick with it. If having your child in bed with you is not a problem then go ahead - but we found that sleeping with our eldest son was like sharing a bed with a restless octopus - and none of us got a decent night's sleep.
4. Get a nightlight. Some children are genuinely scared of the dark and a nightlight can ease the terror for them - it's not a big deal (don't tell anyone, but my eldest still has a nightlight at 11). Nightmares can be a problem for small children too - but they do tend to grow out of them. Be calm and reassuring (and maybe keep a close eye on what they are watching - my youngest had a spate of nightmares after watching a children's programme about vampires) and tell yourself “this too will pass. "
5. Reward charts. This worked well with my youngest son, who had a habit of waking us up every time he woke up - he would go back to bed, but it made for a lousy night's sleep when he was appearing in our bedroom three or four times a night. I made a star chart and he got a star if he stayed in bed ‘til morning without waking us. Seven stars and he got a treat - he's a mercenary wee soul so this worked wonders!
Above all, if you have a yo-yoing child, up and down all night, keep calm. Don't lose your temper - it won't help and you'll feel worse for it. Be consistent - keep putting them back to bed - and they will, eventually, get the message. It's a blissful feeling when you realise you can't remember when you were last woken in the night by a small child appearing, ghost-like, at the side of your bed.