The holidays are a special time for everyone, but with all of the shopping and planning, the season can also be incredibly stressful. Add in the time spent working hard at a job, followed by the endless stream of parental duties once you get home - the whole month overwhelms.

The only time parents may get a moment of respite from all of the madness is when heads lay down to sleep. Unfortunately, exhaustion can easily merge into frustration - and even anger - when their children either cannot or will not go to bed quietly, thus denying mom and dad their badly needed rest.

Desperate Measures

It is not unheard of for parents to sometimes reach for the medicine cabinet and give their children a little cough syrup or cold medicine to help everyone get some shut-eye. While medicating children in certain situations is nothing new, what concerns doctors is that a growing number of parents have come to rely on drugging their kids just to get some peace in their lives - especially those who are home all day with their kids.

According to a recent article, in a poll of more than 26,000 mothers, 1 in 5 women admitted that they give their children medicine such as Dramamine or Benadryl to help them endure a long plane trip or drive. While this may seem perfectly reasonable, the same poll found that 1 in 12 mothers said that they give their kids medicine on a regular basis just to make them drowsy on any given day. One mother was even quoted as saying that her daughter loved the taste of Benedryl and begs for it every night.

Health Consequences

The numbers in the polls might actually be inaccurate because many parents won't admit to unnecessarily medicating their kids. However, pediatricians are virtually unanimous in indicating that it is not okay to do so regularly, because continual use of medication can lead to addiction, overdose, and adverse side effects.

The take-home message is that drugs are not an acceptable substitute for parenting, even when mothers or fathers are desperate for some down time. Medicine also prevents children from developing the necessary skills to calm themselves and get to sleep on their own.

What Parents Can Do

Parents are encouraged to avoid drugs unless it is absolutely necessary. The inability of children to calm down and rest is generally the sign of another underlying problem, and one that is often fixable.

With this in mind, here are some helpful alternatives that will not only help children go to sleep, but are healthy lifestyle choices overall.

  1. Eat supper at a reasonable time. Late dinners that result in kids going to bed on a full stomach can make sleep difficult, especially when meals are followed by sweet deserts.
     
  2. Don't allow late night snacking. Again, when kids (and adults) go to bed with a full stomach, especially when it involves sugary snacks, it can disrupt sleep and result in tired children and parents.
     
  3. Provide healthy food choices for your family. Whether it is during supper or for a snack, encouraging wholesome eating habits will not only increase the quality of rest, but is beneficial to a child's overall health.
     
  4. Reduce screen time before bed. Too much time in front of the TV and computer can make sleep difficult and may actually affect their brains in ways that energize them.
     
  5. Set limits to nighttime activities. Most of us lead busy lives, and the evening is the time to wind things down and relax before going to bed, especially for kids. Getting excited and wound up defeats this purpose.
     
  6. Reduce their stress. Putting excessive pressure on kids or over-scheduling their lives can make them anxious, which in turn can impair their ability to relax.
     
  7. Be firm and consistent. Setting a reasonable hour to go to bed and sticking with it will help kids develop healthy sleeping routines.
     
  8. Start when they're young. Establishing good sleep habits at an early age is much easier than trying to get older kids to do what you ask them to.
     
  9. Lead a healthy lifestyle. Being active and eating right will have a positive effect not just in getting to sleep, but in every aspect of their lives.
     
  10. Develop relaxing bedtime routines. Again, start young and create routines that will help them relax and feel sleepy in the evening hours. Reading stories when they are young and spending quiet family time are good examples.

Exercise, hygiene, and good sleep habits need to be taught and encouraged - and, whenever possible, be accomplished without the use of drugs or medication.

Do you have any interesting stories or advice to share on this topic? If so, we would love to hear from you.

From all of us at Parenting Squad, we wish you the best for you and your family this holiday season.