As the sun goes down, a war of wills breaks out in children’s bedrooms across the country.
Children, anxious not to miss anything, resist getting into bed. Parents, knowing they’ll pay the price in the morning if their kids are overtired, use every trick in the book to ensure a good night’s sleep.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
With some consistency and preplanning, bedtimes can be filled with gentle snores of slumber, not the screams and tears of battle.
1. Establish a routine
Children do better when they know what to expect. When any transition is chaotic or different each time, children can get stressed -- and this can come out in the form of a tantrum or resistance.
The routine can include a bath, putting on PJ’s, brushing teeth, listening to two stories, a trip to the bathroom, a final kiss, and lights off. You can even post a timeline of the routine next to your child’s bed, and she can move a clothespin to show where you are in the routine.
2. Be consistent
Set a bedtime and stick to it as consistently as possible. Children get into a routine and their bodies send them cues when it’s time to go to sleep and time to wake up. If that time is missed, they often become overtired and find it difficult to settle down.
Consistency also means not giving in if a child insists on something like sleeping in your bed (if that isn’t the routine) or another drink of water. If you give in after 25 minutes of a tantrum, your child will learn that after that amount of time they will get what they want.
3. Give choices
Sometimes children resist bedtime as a way to exert power. Give your child small choices that don’t impact on the process. For example, “Do you want your red or blue pajamas tonight?” Or, “Which story do you want to read before bed?” Or, “Do you want to brush your teeth or put on your PJ’s first?” No matter what choice your child makes, you are moving toward the ultimate goal of sleep.
Be careful not to give choices you aren’t ready to hear the answer to. For example, “Are you ready to go to bed?”
4. Invest time
The 10 minutes it takes to read a few stories and sit with your child in bed can help him calm down and go to sleep. This is a small investment when you look at the hour-long battle that might ensue if children are rushed or simply put into bed with no routine.
5. Remove distractions
TVs, radios, and all sorts of electronics’ screens (tablets, phones, laptops) can send wake messages to your child, and lead them to resist sleep. Make your child’s bedroom a peaceful haven, free of these distractions. A small nightlight (if needed) and soft, gentle music can help your child sleep without stimulating them.
6. Use timers
If your child is resistant to sleep, you can set up a timer system. Set a timer for five minutes and tell your child if he stays in bed until the timer rings, you will come in for one more hug. Continue to set the timer for longer and longer so your child learns to stay in bed.
7. Make a book
In a world that is constantly moving, sometimes a child doesn’t know what it means to calm down and sleep. Provide her a guide by making a book. On each page, write a step of your bedtime routine. You can also create pages that tell what it means to fall asleep. For example, “We lie real still and close our eyes. In our minds we think happy thoughts. We breathe slowly and deeply to help our bodies calm down.” On the final page, show a picture of your child asleep. Your child can draw the pictures for the story.
The most important thing to remember is this is not forever. Soon the day will come when the only thing your teen seems interested in is sleeping. So, keep calm, keep the faith, and power on!
Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed
Chief Academic Officer of The Sunshine House
Ms. Salcedo has been in the field of early childhood for more than 30 years. She has worked as a teacher, director, trainer, and family educator in numerous childcare settings. She has also worked in a leadership position in the Education Departments of two of the largest childcare corporations in the United States. Ms. Salcedo has also authored various articles and training modules and has traveled the country as a trainer and key note speaker at conferences and early childhood events. She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and an undergraduate degree in Developmental Psychology with an emphasis in Family Life Education.