Question: When should my five year old be going to bed? I try for 8 p.m. but he resists and is often up until 9 or 10. What can I do?
Answer: Bedtime routines must be established and maintained as often as possible. A five year old, on average, needs close to 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night.
The big challenge here is to be consistent in what you are doing for the few hours preceding his bedtime. In the three hours prior to sleeping, families tend to be very busy with cleaning up after supper, watching TV, going to malls or spending time with electronics, such as computers or video games.
Make sure that supper is not close to bedtime and that it is not the biggest meal of the day filled with lots of sweetened beverages and extra desserts. For adults, a meal that mainly consists of carbohydrates may affect the brain chemicals in such as way that drowsiness is more likely — as opposed to a meal with lots of protein which tends to switch on substances that alert the brain. However, this is not entirely true for children.
The excitement of playing video games prior to bedtime may make it harder for a 5 year old to settle down afterwards. Try to limit these activities, and other electronic games, to the early evening. Being exposed to lights coming from screens of electronic devices may also decrease the melatonin production. (Increasing darkness at the end of the day triggers the body to produce melatonin, a hormone which helps us to fall asleep more easily.)
Some children use stall tactics in the evening as a way to get attention, or they feel insecure when it is time to say good night. Try to put aside all your other activities for an hour and spend one-on-one time with the child. Avoid multitasking where you may split your attention between your son and your smart phone. Read a book together. Listen to soft, soothing music. Some parents claim that a lavender fragrance in the room creates a more peaceful atmosphere. The key thing is to be firm and consistent that time of the day.
Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at email@example.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.