Staying by your child's bedside until they fall asleep may take some of the fuss out of bedtime, but new research shows that doing so may have adverse effects on their school behavior.
A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study found that children who aren’t able to soothe themselves back to sleep by age five may have trouble self-regulating their behavior and emotions in school.
The study -- led by Dr. Kate Williams, QUT’s Faculty of Education, School of Early Childhood -- found that, in a sample of 2,880 children, one in three have escalating problems sleeping from birth to age five. Children with problems self-regulating their sleep were found to be at greater risk of developing emotional and behavioral issues at school.
Teacher-reported behavior revealed to researchers an association between children with sleep problems and higher levels of improper classroom behavior, including hyperactivity, poor classroom self-management, and emotional outbursts.
"We now know 70 percent of children are regulating their own sleep by five years but for the remaining third it may be detrimental to them developmentally over time," said Dr. Williams, who says that there are steps parents can take to help children become better self-soothers at night.
Dr. Williams says it’s important to get children’s sleep schedules sorted before age five in order to help them adjust to school more easily.
It may take a little extra effort, but she says parents can help children develop a “sense of skill” in the area of sleep. This might be done through routine and structure (such as not lying with children or tucking them in multiple times) or with support from child care professionals.
Consistent sleep habits
Incorporating routine and structure into a child’s bedtime routine can make life easier on everyone, including your child’s future kindergarten teacher.
Experts recommend the following tips on helping a child develop good sleep hygiene:
- Stick to a soothing, predictable routine, such as bath, bedtime story, lights out. Predictable routines hold built-in warnings that bedtime is coming up soon, so kids have a chance to get sleepy on their own instead of being blindsided.
- Keep bedrooms dark and free of distractions, such as flashing lights, clocks, or toys that are particularly attention-grabbing.
- Keep kids in their own bed. While late-night visits to your bed might be comforting to your child, experts say it’s important not to allow them to stay. Try to minimize any reward they might get from doing so, such as a long conversation or an extended visit. Walk them back to their bed as soon as possible.
- If trouble falling asleep persists, consult a pediatrician for interventions that can help children fall asleep, such as relaxation and self-soothing techniques.