Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sleep Problems: Understanding and Managing Children’s Behavior

Dealing with children who have trouble sleeping can be frustrating for both parents and caregivers.  By bedtime, parents are tired from a long day and wish for their children to be put down quickly and quietly. This, however, is rarely the reality as most children demand attention by begging for another story or playing one more round in a game. The key to managing sleeping difficulties is...

The key to managing sleeping difficulties is to first understand what a child is trying to communicate by their requests. Once that need is met, parents may work to create an environment that facilitates an easier transition to bedtime.

Frequently, children who have trouble going to bed are expressing a difficulty in separating from their caregiver. The way to counter this problem is to for parents to carve out time for intentional parent-child interactions during the day. Such experiences demonstrate to children that they are loved and supported and decrease the potential of them to view nightly separations as a rejection. Children should also not associate bedtime with wakefulness. The way to discourage this connection is to limit lively play to daytime and only allow it outside of the bedroom.  

Some children may also need to learn what helps them feel settled-be it a warm bottle of milk or their favorite stuffed animal. This object may be the same used when a child is fussy and having a hard time managing their emotions.

Nighttime routines are valuable in managing sleeping problems because they instill the idea of sameness to the child. These routines also demonstrate expectations around sleep and bedtime. Children who are not provided with regular routines get anxious and feel out of control because they are not sure when to be expected to go to sleep. Parents should not be hesitant in setting limits and remember that limits reinforce children’s safety needs. Allowing a child to determine their own bedtime counters this need because it removes structure and containment.  

Most young kids learn new patterns rapidly so utilizing these strategies is a step in the right direction. If, however, it seems that sleeping issues are manifestations of deeper difficulties, consider bringing your child in for therapeutic treatment to work through the issue and help them feel more in control. 

Posted by Asya Brodsky, LSW, CADC


Minde, K. (2002). Sleep Disorders in Infants and Young Children. In Maldonado-Duran, J. M., Infant and Toddler Mental Health (pp.269-302). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.