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When putting an infant to bed:
- Make the nighttime routine consistent and pleasant.
- Give the last nighttime feeding shortly before putting the baby to bed. Never put the baby to bed with a bottle, as it can cause tooth decay. (See: Baby bottle tooth decay)
- Spend quiet time with your child by rocking, walking, or simple cuddling.
- Put the child in bed before he is deeply asleep. This will teach your child to go to sleep on his own.
- Your baby may cry when you lay him in his bed, because he fears being away from you. This is called separation anxiety. Simply go in, speak in a calm voice, and rub the baby's back or head. Do not remove the baby out of the bed. Once he has calmed down, leave the room. Your child will soon learn that you are simply in another room.
- If your baby awakens in the night for feeding, do not turn on the lights. Keep the room dark and quiet. Use night lights , if needed. Keep the feeding as brief and boring as possible. Do not entertain the baby. When the baby has been fed, burped and calmed, return him to bed. If you maintain this routine, your baby will become used to it and go to sleep on his own.
- Sleeping with a baby younger than 12 months of age may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
When dealing with an older child:
- Make the nighttime routine pleasant and predictable.
- Keep activities such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading stories, saying prayers, and so forth in the same order every night.
- Before you turn out the light, ask if the child needs anything else.
- Establish a rule that the child cannot leave the bedroom.
- Ignore verbal requests after the child has gone to bed.
- If your child starts screaming, shut the door to his bedroom and say, "I'm sorry, but I have to shut your door. I will open it when you are quiet." If your child comes out of his room, avoid lecturing him. Using good eye contact, tell the child that you will open the door again when the child is in bed. If the child says he is in bed, open the door.
- If your child tries to climb into your bed at night, unless he is afraid, return him to his bed as soon as you discover his presence. Avoid lectures or sweet conversation. If your child simply cannot sleep, tell him he may read or look at books in his room, but he is not to disturb other people in the family.
- Praise your child for appropriate bedtime behavior.
Remember that bedtime habits can be disrupted by changes or stresses such as moving to a new home or gaining a new brother or sister. It may take time to reestablish previous bedtime practices.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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