Dr. Marc Weissbluth on Making a Sleep Rules Poster
How can I get my kid to take sleep time seriously?
Make a Sleep Rules poster. "Sleep Rules" are a strategy I created that works well for children over 2-and-a-half or 3-years old. (You can find more information about Sleep Rules in my book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child.)
Part One: Create the Poster
To use Sleep Rules, first create an elaborate poster outlining the following "sleep rules:"
- 1. Stay in bed.
- 2. Close our eyes.
- 3. Stay very quiet.
- 4. Go to sleep.
- 5. Stay in bed until you hear the music.
As you create, discuss the rules with your child, so you can be sure she understands them. Draw pictures for anything that might be unclear. Hang the poster in your child's room where he can see it and be reminded of the rules.
Part Two: Set rewards and restrictions
Set rewards and restrictions of privileges to accompany the Sleep Rules. Talk with your child to come up with a reward for following the Sleep Rules—stickers, bite-sized pieces of candy…anything small, motivating to your child and mutually agreed on. Keep the rewards in a clear container in a place that is out of your child's reach, but where the rewards will be visible to your child.
You must also set up a consequence for not following the rules—loss of a toy, television or computer privileges, etc. (Don't restrict your child from creative things such as books, music, art or playing outdoors.)
Then, each morning that your child has followed the rules, acknowledge that the rules were followed and reward the behavior with the treat. For days when your child fails to follow the rules, discuss the rules that weren't followed and implement the restriction.
If you're using an alarm clock, set it for the waking time you've set with your child. Choose classical music as the alarm and set the volume to quiet&mash;it should be quiet enough that if your child is still sleeping when the alarm sounds, it won't wake her. If she is awake, she'll use the quiet music as her cue that she may now get out of bed.
Part Three: Practice the "Silent Return."
When you put your child to bed, remind him of the Sleep Rules, then say, "I love you. It's time to sleep. If you get out of bed tonight, I'm going to put you back in bed, but I'm not going to talk to you when I do it."
Then, anytime your child leaves his bed during the night, return him to bed without saying a word. This can be challenging, but engaging your child by talking with him, even if you're expressing your disapproval, rewards your child with attention and gives him incentive to repeat the behavior.
NOTE: If your child is still napping, apply all of the above techniques during naptime, too, for consistency.