I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Entries in children (5)

Friday
Oct192012

Ask Malia: How Long Should Bedtime Take?

Malia,

I’m curious about how long it takes you to get your kids to bed at night. My son’s bedtime routine takes at least an hour, every night. I’ve tried many times to get the routine under control, but he doesn’t cooperate. I’m starting to lose hope. Help!

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Two-year-old Mia at a pumpkin patch corn boxWhen it comes to bedtime, my two girls are as different as night and day. My almost-three-year-old’s routine takes about 15 or 20 minutes (not including bath). She puts on her pajamas, we read two or three short books, brush her teeth, she turns off the light, I help her climb into bed with her blankie, and it’s off to dreamland.

Until she was about 18 months old, she didn’t have patience for books before bedtime, and her routine took about five minutes (pj’s, hug, kiss, and lights out). She asked to be plopped in her bed before I was done snuggling her—some nights, I was miffed!

My spunky five-year-old has always needed a bit more wind-down time than her sister. Her routine takes about 30-35 minutes, because we read longer stories, and because she has a more involved nighttime tooth-brushing/skincare routine. She would gladly drag the routine out longer if sheFive-year-old Bianca could, so we gently redirect her back to the routine when she starts to stall. But I appreciate the longer routine—and she actually lets me sing her a lullaby, something my youngest stanchly forbids (“No, mommy! NO SINGING!”) I love spending a few minutes before bed listening to her talk about her day, too.

Bedtime shouldn’t be excruciating—it should be a peaceful end to your child’s day. Anywhere from 15-45 minutes is a good routine length to shoot for, but as my experience proves, it will vary from child to child and may flex as your child grows. If your bedtime routine isn’t working, it’s time to change things up. Check out past posts Building a Better Bedtime, Eight Tips for Bedtime Success, and Great Expectations: Thinking Your Way to Bedtime Success for tactics to help you get back on track.

Don't miss a post! Subscribe to The Well Rested Family to have sleep news, tips, and tactics delivered to your inbox or feed reader by clicking here.

Need more sleep? My e-book Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep So You Can Sleep Too is chock-full of mom-tested solutions to help babies and toddlers start sleeping well, tonight!

Friday
May252012

Ask Malia: Handling the Anti-Bedtime Brigade

Hello Malia. I have two children, a 3 year old girl and a an 18-month-old boy. We have found over the years that having a consistent nap and bedtime routine is extremely important to our children's wellbeing, happiness, behavior, and health.

But we have a large extended family that comes from a school of thought that children should be made to move their schedule around the needs of the family. We've recently been confronted by angry family members for leaving early, showing up after nap time, or not coming at all if the children need more rest because they are overtired or sick. They've actually told us that if kids are acting up because they're overtired, they should be spanked (instead of put to bed).

In the past year, I think we’ve only missed one birthday party and had to leave a family holiday around 8 p.m., which doesn't seem unreasonable to us. However, the family is actually very upset about this. I would welcome any words of encouragement or advice on how to stand our ground. Thank you very much.

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Thanks for this excellent question. I was very happy to get your email and hear how you're prioritizing your children's sleep and health! Way to go!

You're definitely not alone. I've also had to leave family gatherings early and miss out on things because of my children's naps and bedtimes. When people balk at that, I say "Oh, she's a complete bear if she misses her naptime. Trust me, you don't WANT to be around her if she's overtired—she'll just scream and ruin the party for everyone else." 

Playing the magnanimous card—"I'm doing this so you, my friends and family, don't have to be around a crying, overtired child"—usually works well.

But if that doesn't work, you can also hit them with some science. New studies are showing that naps actually help babies learn and retain new information. And that missed naps put toddlers are risk for mood disorders. As I mentioned in my last blog post, proper sleep also supports kids' immune systems and keeps them from getting sick. This is all new science that your parents and older relatives didn't have access to as parents, so these are things they may not be aware of.

If your family places a lot of faith in medical experts, you can say that your pediatrician is big on naps and bedtimes for health reasons and leave it at that: "Oh, there are some nasty bugs going around and their doctor says one of the worst things I could do right now is keep them up too late."

But ultimately, what it often comes down to is a clash of values. When you prioritize your child's sleep routine over parties or socializing, others may interpret your actions as a judgment of their parenting style (even if they raised their kids 30 years ago). It’s a shame. As if parenting weren’t difficult enough—sometimes doing the right things for your kids rubs other people the wrong way. Keeping the tone light and staying firm yet friendly about your parenting decisions goes a long way toward communicating that your parenting decisions aren’t a critique of anyone else’s; you’ve simply figured out how to keep your kids happy and healthy. You can say something like, "Yes, your style worked great for your kids, but these are my kids and we’ve figured out what works best for them."

Or take a cue from my friend S., who just cuts off difficult family members criticizing her parenting decisions with “Really, this conversation, again?” It takes guts to be that bold—but it works every time.

Hope this is helpful! I applaud your willingness to stand up for your kids' best interests. You are doing a great job. Eventually, your relatives will see the concrete results of your parenting decisions in your kids' demeanor and well-being. (Wow, they don't melt down over the slightest thing! They aren't constantly sick! They're actually...good natured!) Over time, they might (grudgingly) start to see things your way. Even if they don't admit it. So keep it up. You're doing the right thing, and don't let anyone tell you differently. After all, you've got the happy, healthy kids to prove it.

Tuesday
Mar132012

King 5 Parent to Parent: Living Green

Check out my latest Parent to Parent segment on King 5 about growing up green. I'm discussing my March cover story for ParentMap magazine and offering easy tips for families who want to live green. (Parent to Parent airs on KONG, channel 6/16 in Washington at 8:15am on Mondays.)

Please, "like" the segment and share it with friends!

Read more here:

Sunday
Oct302011

Especially for Halloween: Night Terror Myths and Facts

It's Halloween—what better time to talk about terrible things that crop up in the dead of night? In the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, I’d love to shed some light on the murky world of night terrors. Nightmares and night terrors are often confused by parents, and they are indeed confusing. Both happen in the middle of the night, and both can be upsetting and disruptive to sleep. When your child starts screaming in the wee hours, when you’re groggy and your thinking is fuzzy, it can difficult to know exactly what to do.

Though night terrors and nightmares seem similar, they have some distinctively different characteristics than can help you figure out which your child is experiencing.

Myth: A night terror is just an intensely upsetting nightmare.

Fact: Night terrors differ substantially from nightmares. First, a nightmare will often cause a child to wake up in the middle of the night. During a night terror, the child is not awake. Though she may get up and sleepwalk, she won’t come and find you. And in the morning, she won’t remember a thing (because she was never awake).

Myth: A night terror is a horrible experience for a child.

Fact: While a child may have some upsetting memory of nightmare, they won’t remember a night terror. The experience is probably more upsetting for the parent who is trying to comfort their screaming child, than it is for the child.

Myth: It’s best to wake a child who is having a night terror.

Fact: “Don’t try and wake them up,” says Matt Woolley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who often works with children experiencing nightmares and night terrors. “Be calm and comforting, offer a gentle back rubbing. Once the child calms down, you can redirect him or her back to bed and maybe offer a glass of water. But do not force a drink of water, try to make them speak to you, or make them go to the bathroom.” Remember, the child is not awake.

Myth: All children experience night terrors at some point.

Fact: While nightmares are a near-universal childhood experience, true night terrors are much less common, affecting only about a quarter of children. That’s good news, because most children won’t ever have one.

Myth: Children with night terrors have psychological problems.

Fact: Though night terrors can be intense and upsetting, they don’t indicate underlying problems. “A child can be very happy and well-adjusted and still have a night terror,” notes Woolley.

Night terrors are no fun, and I hope they don't come knocking at your place this Halloween. Here's to a Halloween followed by sweet dreams!


Monday
Oct242011

The Best Bedtime Snacks for Kids

In most homes with young children, bedtime snacks are a must (no parent wants to hear “Mom, I’m staaaaarving!” in the middle of the night, right?). But all bedtime snacks aren’t created equal. Many parents have learned the hard way to avoid caffeine, salt, and sugar at bedtime. As I mentioned in last week’s post, caffeine and salt are linked to bedwetting. Sugar isn’t much better: many a sleep doctor has informed me that too much sugar can make bedtime a battle (though it affects each child differently).

So we know what not to serve kids at bedtime. Now for the good news: certain foods in certain combinations can actually make bedtime easier and more peaceful. If you’re feeding your kids anyway, why not serve up a snack that makes bedtime less of a hassle and more of a breeze?

The trick is to pair tryptophan, the sleepy superhero, with complex carbohydrates. Why? Tryptophan helps kids feel calm and sleepy by aiding in the production of serotonin and melatonin. But tryptophan alone won’t summon the sandman. This where the carbs come in. Eating carbohydrates triggers a release of insulin, which helps tryptophan enter the brain and cast its sleepy spell. (That’s why Thanksgiving dinner is so notoriously sleep-inducing; most T-day dinners include turkey along with heaping helpings of carbohydrates in the form of potatoes, stuffing, and rolls. Hello, food coma.)

Foods rich in tryptophan include meat, poultry, and seafood, dairy and soy products, whole grains and lentils, peanuts, sesame and sunflower seeds, and eggs.

Here are some super sleepytime snacks for kids:

  • Peanut butter spread on a banana
  • Hummus on a whole-grain tortilla
  • Whole grain cereal with milk or soy milk
  • Apple slices and cheddar cheese
  • Wholegrain toast with almond or sunflower seed butter
  • Turkey and cheese on whole-grain crackers
  • Plain yogurt with honey and dried fruit
  • Egg salad in a whole-wheat pita
  • Popcorn (a whole grain!) and peanuts (non-salted)

What are your family’s favorite bedtime snacks? Happy snacking—and sweet dreams!