Book Excerpt: 'Sleepless in America'

If your children misbehave, there's a very good chance that they, like many of the adults in this country, are sleep-deprived.

In "Sleepless in America," Mary Sheedy Kurcinka tells you how to make sure your children get enough sleep -- and how to restore order in your home.

Chapter One

Temper Tantrums, Morning Wars, Homework Hassles

What does sleep have to do with misbehavior? "The difference between a child who is well rested and one who is not is a smile on his face -- and on yours."

— Joe, father of two

The trouble with a child who is missing sleep is that her behavior is confusing. It's hard to believe that the real culprit behind her temper tantrum is lack of sleep when bedtime is one of your biggest battles, or she loses it simply because you dropped her water bottle. And when she can't even dress herself, even though she did it yesterday, it feels more like a plot against you than an issue of fatigue. How can a child who is supposedly so tired somehow garner the energy to veer off her path just far enough to bop her brother in the head, and jump on her bed laughing hysterically when you try to get her down for the night?

But if your child is misbehaving, it's very likely that he or she is crying for sleep. Sleep-deprived children can include babies who are sleeping less than 14 - 16 hours in a 24-hour period; toddlers sleeping less than 13 hours, preschoolers less than 12 hours, school-age children less than 10 hours, or adolescents sleeping less than 9.25 hours a night. And until your child gets more sleep, no punishment, no discipline strategy will stop the challenging behaviors. Sound sleep is a key to good behavior. The problem is that children rarely tell you that they are tired. Instead, they get wired, which escalates into a frenzy of energy. It's as though their body is out of control -- and it is.

Suspecting that your child might be tired, you may have even tried to put him to bed at a reasonable hour, but it's as though he fights sleep. If he's an infant, just as you think he is about to drop off, he jerks awake, thrashing and shrieking. And if he is older, no matter what you do, he still complains that he can't fall asleep, wakes frequently in the night, and all too often awakens early. Since your efforts are unrewarded, it's easy to assume that he does not need much sleep. The misbehavior and whining continue, and the connection to lack of sleep remains a mystery. That's what happened in Samantha's family.

On Saturday, eight-year-old Samantha was a delight. She accepted the news that her favorite cereal was gone with a mere sigh of disappointment. Over breakfast, she chatted cheerfully with her parents and even allowed her brother to join the conversation. When the baby reached for her toast, she offered him a bite instead of slapping his hand. He squealed with pleasure. Without complaining, she cleaned her room, and didn't lag behind on a trip to the shopping center. Her parents grinned, proud of their skill and glorying in their daughter's energy and enthusiasm for life. But Sunday was a different story.

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