Making Life Easier
By Pamelazita Buschbacher, Ed.D. Illustrated by Sarah I. Perez
Many families find bedtime and naptime to be a challenge for
them and their children. It is estimated that 43% of all children
and as many as 86% of children with developmental
delays experience some type of sleep difficulty. Sleep problems
can make infants and young children moody, short tempered and unable
to engage well in interactions with others. Sleep problems can also impact
learning. When a young child is sleeping, her body is busy developing new
brain cells needed for her physical, mental and emotional development.
Parents also need to feel rested in order to be nurturing and responsive to their
growing and active young children. Here are a few proven tips for making
bedtimes and naptimes easier for parents and children.
Tip: Establish Good
Develop a regular time for
going to bed and taking
naps, and a regular time to
wake up. Young children
require about 10-12 hours
of sleep a day (see the
box on the last page that
provides information on how much
sleep a child needs). Sleep can be any
combination of naps and night time sleep.
Make sure your child has outside time and
physical activity daily, but not within the hour before naptime or bedtime.
Give your child your undivided and unrushed attention as you prepare
her for bedtime or a nap. This will help to calm her and let her know how
important this time is for you and her.
Develop a bedtime and naptime routine. Help your child be ready
for sleep. Babies and young children thrive on predictability and learn
from repetition. They like and need to know what is happening next. It
is important to establish a routine that both you and
your child understand and find calming and relaxing.
Bedtime routines usually involve undressing, bathing,
dressing in pajamas, brushing teeth, toileting for older
toddlers and preschoolers, story and/or prayers (for
children developmentally older than six months). The
order and content will be different for each family
depending on the developmental age of your child, the
traditions of your family, and the needs of your child’s
• Do and say the same things before naps and
bedtime. This helps your child transition from
active play to sleep.
• Establish a predictable place for sleeping. If you
want your child to sleep in his own bed, put him
down in his own bed. If you would like your
child to nap in her room, guide her to sleep in
her room. If you begin the bedtime routine in
another location (e.g., the rocking chair) and then
move the child when sleeping, your child is likely
to wake up during a light sleep cycle and become
confused about her surroundings.
Help your child understand the steps in the napping
and bedtime routines.
• First…, then… statements help your child understand
and predict what will happen next. You
might say, “Sara, it’s time to take a nap. First, let’s
find teddy. Then we can pick a book to read. Then
we can climb into bed and cuddle.”
• Your child might benefit from a picture schedule
or a picture book (photos, clipart, objects) of the
steps in her napping or bedtime. This can help
her understand the steps and expectations of the
routine. It can also help other adults and babysitters
put her to bed in a similar manner. Supporting
others who put your child to sleep in a way that
you have found works will be very reassuring and
calming for your child and for them.
Tell your child what might happen when she wakes
up. The day might have been so much fun that your
child does not want to take a break for a nap or go to
bed for the night. Follow your calming routine, reassuring
your child that the fun will continue when she
wakes up. You might want to talk with her about what
will happen when she wakes. You might want to show
her a picture of what is going to happen after she sleeps.
For example, you might say, “First, sleep. Then wake
up and we go to the park.” You might use pictures of
sleep and park to help your child understand.
Carry a favorite transition object to bed (e.g., a
teddy bear, a blankie, a book). A transition object
becomes another signal to the child that it is time
to go to sleep. Some children prefer an object that is
soothing to touch or cuddle while resting.
Provide your child with calming, rest-inducing
activities, sounds or objects in the routine. Avoid
activities that might excite your child in the hour
before bedtime or nap. It is not a time for roughhousing,
tickle games, or active play. It is not a time
for DVDs or computer games. In fact, you might have
an easier time with the naptime/bedtime transition if
your child is not engaged in a favorite activity when
it is time to start the naptime or bedtime routine. It is
important that your routine helps your child prepare
for resting and sleeping. Some possible soothing items
and activities include sucking a pacifier, hugging a
blankie or soft animal, looking through or reading
a favorite book, soft music on the CD player, being
rocked, a back rub, or singing a lullaby to your child.
Reducing the noise and light in the room and nearby
rooms is rest-inducing for many young children.
Put your baby or child down for sleep while she is
still awake. Say “good night” and leave the room. By
putting your baby/child down before she’s asleep, she
learns to go to sleep on her own, an important skill for
the rest of her life. If she falls asleep routinely in your
arms or a rocking device, she might get disoriented
or scared when waking up in her crib or bed, rather
than cozy and comfortable in your arms. She
will not have learned how to put herself back
to sleep without your help. When
placing your child in her bed, you
can provide her with soothing
sleep aids such as her security
blanket, a stuffed animal, a
pacifier, or quiet music.
Tell your child that you
will be back to check on
her shortly and then be
sure to return in a few
minutes. She might cry
for a few minutes. If
so, you can help her
settle down again
and then leave the
room. You can
return to her room
on regular intervals to
offer comfort, but you
should not take your
child out of bed.
Avoid certain foods
and drinks six hours
before sleep (e.g., sodas, chocolate,
fatty foods). A little tummy
that is digesting sugary, caffeinated or
fatty foods can keep a child alert and awake.
Try breast feeding or offering a warm bottle just
before bed. Milk can induce a deep sleep. However,
if your child is being potty trained, avoid milk three
hours before sleep because it may cause them to have
an accident during the night. Remember that a child
should never be put to bed with a bottle as that causes
serious tooth decay. You want to also remember to
help your child brush his teeth after any snack or
drink that is given prior to sleeping.
Provide choices whenever possible. Providing
choices for your child has proven to be a powerful
strategy in preventing challenging behaviors. Choices
you offer at bedtime could be whether the night light
stays on or off, what toy the child takes to bed, the
story you will read, or if the door is open or shut. This
gives your child a feeling of control and helps your
child cooperate with your requests. When offering
choices, make them concrete and limited (only
2 or 3 choices). For example, you could let
your child choose which pajamas to
wear (given 2 choices), when to
go potty (e.g., before or after
brushing teeth), who will give
her a bath (e.g., mommy
or grandma), or what
book to read (given 3
Reduce noise and
distractions in and near
her room. You want to
help your child fall asleep
by reducing the distractions
or things that make
her stay awake. For example,
if your child would rather stay
up and watch television, turn it
off until she is asleep. If it is still
light outside, consider shades or
curtains that darken the room. If
adults or other children are talking
or playing, consider asking them to
move away from the child’s room.
When an infant or a young child sleeps in
a room with the television on or loud conversation
happening, she comes to rely on these
to fall asleep but doesn’t truly get the restful
sleep she needs. If it is not possible to keep the environment
quiet, consider playing soothing music near the
child to block out other sounds (a ticking clock, fish
tank, or fan might also work).
Reduce light in the room. While you want to darken
the room, your child might find it reassuring to have a
small light on in the room or her bedroom door open
slightly and a light on in the hall.
Make sure your child is comfortable. Check the
temperature; what is comfortable for you might be
chilly or too warm for your child. Your child might
need the security of pajamas that are snug fitting or
an extra blanket. She might feel cold even when you
think the room is just right. She might need the fan
on or off.
to follow directions or eat, or become aggressive with others
(e.g., pushing, hitting, biting, etc.). Some children become
more active when they are tired in an effort to stay awake.
Your child might just get “grumpy.”
Tip: Talk with your child
about his fears.
For a young child, there really are monsters in the room.
Your child might tell you he is scared or he might not yet
be able to tell you this.
See your child’s room as
a two year old or a four
year old does. In the
Tip: Consider keeping a
sleep diary for a week.
Some children are erratic in their sleep patterns. You
might feel at a loss for predicting how much and when
she sleeps. A sleep diary is a written log of when your child
falls asleep, when your child wakes up, and a calculation
of the total amount of sleep for each day. You might also
want to write comments about any events that happen
that day that could be related to your child’s sleep cycles.
The sleep diary might help you see relationships between
napping and sleeping at night or the consistency of bedand
naptimes. If your child has challenging behavior
related to going to bed; you can also write down information
that describes the behavior challenges and how
you responded. This behavior log could provide you with
information about when behavior challenges are likely to
occur and what you or others might be doing to reinforce
(i.e., pay off) the behaviors. This will help you
get a clearer picture of what works and doesn’t work
in helping your child fall asleep and sleep well.
Tip: Look for the signs
There are always signs that your child is getting
tired. Think about how your child shows you that
she is getting tired. Share these observations with
others who help put her to sleep. When your child is
sleepy, you should assist him in taking a nap or at bedtime.
Signs of sleepiness in infants and toddlers might include
yawning, difficulty focusing, turning her face away from
objects or people, rubbing her eyes or nose or pulling her
ears, falling down
or having difficulty
pulling to a stand,
and losing interest in
play. A sleepy baby
might arch her back
and lean backwards
when you hold her.
A preschooler might
also show the same
signs or might have
trouble playing with
others, complain of a
tummy ache, refuse
darkness of his room, shadows of toys or furniture might
seem frightening. If your child expresses fear, let your child
know that you understand his fears (e.g, "you are feeling
scared.") and then provide reassurance or comfort (e.g.,
"That is your toy box making a scary shadow, let me move
it so it won't look like a ghost."). Then provide her with a
soft toy to hug and other calming activities and/or items
suggested earlier. Relock the window, pull down the shade
or pull the curtains shut. Check in the closet and under
the bed. If your child is afraid of the dark, put a dimmer
switch on the light. Start with the light on and gradually
dim the light over several weeks. Let your child know that
you are nearby and that you will make sure she is safe. Your
child might need to know where you will be when she is
sleeping, even if you need to use a photo/picture. If you
need to remain in the room for your child’s safety, keep the
light off or dimmed, remain quiet, and avoid interaction.
Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children
This document is public domain and may be reproduced without permission.
Reproduction of this document is strongly encouraged.
Developed in collaboration with PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights)
If your child cries or gets out of bed, be supportive and
let her know you understand her fears. You might say, “I
miss you, too. I’ll be in the living room. You’ll be fine.
We’ll have fun in the morning.” Calmly return her to
bed, make sure that she still has her calming items, reassure
her, kiss her good-night, and leave the room.
Tip: Celebrate the little
successes along the way!
You might say, “You are getting to be such a big
girl, sleeping in your bed with your teddy.” Your
child’s restful sleep makes for a restful you. Then
you are both ready for shared days of family
fun and learning.
In closing, please remember that the team
of professionals that support you and your
child will have additional specific ideas
about how to help your child. Don't forget to ask them!
Your child's speech therapist, physical therapist, teacher, or
other professional should be able to help you think about
the best way to support your child within daily routines
and community activities. If your child is having persistent
challenging behavior within this activity, you should
ask the professionals who work with you to help develop a
behavior support plan that will provide more specific strategies
to prevent challenging behavior and help your child
develop new social and communication skills.
Is my child getting enough sleep?
Age Nighttime Daytime
1 - 3 months 8½ hrs - 10 hours 3 naps (total of 5 - 7 more hours)
6 - 9 months 11 hours 2 naps (total of 3 - 3.5 hours)
12 - 18 months 11¼ hours 1 or 2 naps (total of 2 - 2.5 hours)
2 years 11 hours 1 nap (90 minutes - 2 hours)
3 years 10½ hours 1 nap (90 minutes - 2 hours)
* Your child will probably transition out of naps between 2-5 years of age.
Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise
during the day.
Develop regular times for bed and naps and
stick with them.
Develop a bedtime and naptime routine.
• Do and say the same things before naps and bedtime.
• Establish a predictable place for sleeping.
• Help your child understand the steps in the routines
(e.g., use “first, then” statements, picture schedule).
• Tell your child what might happen when she wakes up.
• Let your child carry a favorite transition object to bed.
• Provide your child with calming and rest inducing
activities, sounds, or objects in the routine.
• Put your baby or child down for sleep while she is
still awake. Say, “Good night.” and leave the room.
Give your child your undivided and unrushed
Avoid certain foods and drinks six hours
before sleep (i.e., sodas, chocolate, fatty foods).
Try breast feeding or offering a warm bottle
just before bed.
Provide choices whenever possible.
Reduce noise, light, and distractions in and
near your child’s room.
Keep a sleep diary so you will know what’s
working (or not).
Celebrate the little successes along the way.