How To Get Your Child to Go to Sleep or Eat

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

Please bear in mind that the following principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. Therefore have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.

With these tips, you can learn how to get your child to go to sleep or eat.

7 Ways How To Get Your Child To Go To Sleep

1. During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, some parents report that their children, who normally went to bed at 10-11 o’clock, fell asleep at 7! Why? Because there were no lights, no T.V. and no computers. It helps children go to bed if you lower the lights and television in your home a significant amount of time before their bedtime. Often, children will then become sleepy on their own.
2. Don’t just grab a child who is busy doing a pleasurable activity and demand that he go to bed right away. Instead, give him some warning. For example, you can say, “O.k., remember you have a half an hour left to play, and then it’s time to go to bed.” Then, “Ten minutes left until bedtime.” Then, “5 minutes.” This gives the child time to mentally prepare for the change and reduces resistance. This method should be used for ending any pleasurable activity.

How To Get Your Child to Go to Sleep or Eat - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

3. Establish an enjoyable bedtime ritual, such as the parent going into the bedroom, sitting on the bed and reading stories while the child is under the covers with a flashlight. You can let your child keep the flashlight to play with while falling asleep. Fluff the blanket up and down several times and tuck him in. All this will reduce the loneliness children have to face in a dark room. If you have to, spend some time in there with your child as he gradually falls asleep. It is a tremendous opportunity for bonding.

4. Every child needs a different amount of sleep. I have a ten-year-old who goes to bed at 9:30, an eight-year-old who goes to bed at 10:30 and a twelve-year-old who is fine going to bed at midnight! You may be trying to put your child to bed 45 minutes earlier than needed. Delaying bedtime a little bit can usually make sleep come more easily. Often, parents want to get their kids to bed earlier so they can get some alone time, and this is understandable. But, if bedtime is earlier than your child needs, it is not to his benefit, and he will resist and create more stress for you. Try to find a quiet activity and let him stay up a little later.

How To Get Your Child to Go to Sleep or Eat - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

5. When possible, put children to bed with their siblings. Loneliness in a dark room can be scary. For children without siblings, I recommend parents spending as much time as possible with the child as he falls asleep. 
6. Sometimes, let your child fall asleep in a parents’ bed or on the couch and transfer him later. Don’t fear you’re spoiling him. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, don’t be afraid to sometimes let him come into your bed. Children often need this, because being awake alone at night can be very scary. Forcing them to fall asleep on their own too early can make the problem worse later. If you show your child support when he needs it, he will be more likely to be able to sleep on his own in the future.

7. Give your child a little massage in bed. It relaxes him and can be a bonding experience.

4 Tips to Help Your Child Eat Healthy Meals

How To Get Your Child to Go to Sleep or Eat - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

1. Don’t allow snacks or sugary drinks two to three hours before mealtime. These kill a child’s appetite.
2. Ask your child if he is hungry and try to get him in touch with the feeling of an appetite. Healthy eating habits means honouring your own appetite and only eating when you’re hungry. Therefore, let your child learn to come to you to eat when he’s hungry and don’t force him to eat when he’s not.

3.Give kids a degree of choice about their foods. This strengthens their power of self-determination. Don’t force them to eat something they don’t want just because you prepared it. Don’t force them to finish their entire plate. If you cooked chicken for yourself and then decided you really didn’t want it, would you force yourself to eat it? We need to give our children the same consideration. Ask them to choose out of several healthy options. Don’t be afraid to prepare pizza for one and hot dogs for the other, if reasonably convenient. It may seem like you’re spoiling your children by being so accommodating, but you’re really increasing their happiness and fortifying the parent-child relationship, which will result in improved behaviour later. 

4. Above all make mealtimes at the table a pleasant experience. Avoid stress, criticism, pressure or a sour mood like the plague! If children sense a pleasant atmosphere at the table they will be much more likely to attend and eat well. Make jokes and be playful and jolly at the table. Tell stories and be positive. Your children will love you for this and mealtimes will become a great bonding experience. Don't force kids to sit through the whole meal at the table, it is unrealistic and unnecessary. Kids need to get up and run and play part of the time. Too much pressure to sit at the table creates a negative association to the whole experience and they will want to spend much less time there. Rather have patience and let them gradually learn the joy of family mealtimes.

For tips on how to get kids to listen to directions, click here.

It’s not easy being a parent! Learning how to get your child to go to sleep or eat can take time. But, following these principles and the others in this blog will gradually work wonders for your relationship with your child. 

Feel free to peruse the rest of my informative blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my interesting free reports. If you are experiencing challenges raising your child, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

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