Making 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.
Tammy Gold, a New York-based psychotherapist, acknowledges that a dread of bedtime is not unusual for older children who still suffer from enuresis after age 5. "Before age 5 kids don't really understand that everyone doesn't wet the bed," says Gold. "After age 5, about 25 percent of all children still wet the bed, and that drops to 10 percent 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 that dealing with the dread of bedtime shouldn't just be a function of what to do at night. Rather, the parent needs to sit down with the child, explain that the parent knows that the child's bedwetting is something that he or she has no control over, and let the child that the parent wants to be a partner in dealing with it. This means, says Gold, 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," says Gold. "Take the child and pick out some sheets with a favorite character and get some pajamas to match – at least two sets of everything. 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 them and where they are happy to go to bed."
Gold says that the parent and child should make up the child's bed together, using this process: mattress pad, fitted and flat sheet, then a plastic mattress pad, and the second set of sheets over that. For the older child, this is a way for them to quickly and easily strip their bed after they wet without waking up mom or sisters and brother, and without anyone having to fumble around in the linen closet at night. If the child does wet, he or she can strip the top set of sheets, bundle them up and throw them in a corner, change pajamas and crawl back in bed. The next day, the wet sheets can be dealt with before school and after school the parent can help the child remake the bed.
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 the best 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 their 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.
"This is a great way to spend quality family time and nurture the creative spirit in your child," says McCabe-Maucher. "In my own daughter's bedtime book, I included ultrasound pictures of her and pictures taken during my pregnancy. Underneath the pictures I wrote, 'Mommy and Daddy loved you before you were even born and will always love you forever no matter what happens.'"
McCabe-Maucher also encourages families of adopted children to include pictures taken during the adoption process, including photos of the social worker who conducted their home study and any other important papers or people involved in the process.
Lonna Corder, a parent coach in of San Francisco, Calif., says that 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.
Once the child is in bed, the parent can lie down beside them and walk them through this easy process:
- Have the child visualize each body part in turn, beginning with the feet, and "feel" each of those parts and imagine them relaxing.
- Have the child visualize the bladder and feel that it will have control.
- Continue to reassure the child that eventually the bladder will have control, even if it may not be tonight.
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," she says.
In addition to those specific techniques, our 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 over-stimulation:
- Look at your child's schedule. Corder says if he or she is in so many activities that they don'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 over-stimulation and result in the child's inability to relax and get into a healthy sleep mode.
- Do not forbid fluids. Rather, restrict 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.
- Be sure and have a good nightlight for your child paths to the bathroom so it's not scary for them to get up and go.
- Help your child organize their 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.