How to Make Bedtime Peaceful
As the sun goes down, a war of wills breaks out in children’s bedrooms across the country. Children, anxious to not miss anything going on around them, resist getting and staying in bed. Parents, knowing that they will pay the price in the morning if their kids are overtired, use every trick in the book to ensure a good night’s sleep. But with some consistency and preplanning, bedtimes can be filled with gentle snores of slumber as opposed to 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 every time, children can be stressed and this can come out in the form of tantrums or resistance.
The routine may include a bath, putting on pj’s, brushing teeth, listening to two stories, trip to the bathroom, a final kiss, and lights off. You can even post a timeline of the routine next to a child’s bed and he or 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 very 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, as they have no power in other parts of their life (and having some power is a human need). Give your child small choices in ways that do not 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 the child makes, you are moving toward the ultimate goal of sleep.
Be careful not to give choices that you aren’t ready to hear the answer for, for example, “are you ready to go to bed?”
4. Invest time: The 10 minutes it takes to read a couple of stories and sit with your child in bed can help him or her 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: Televisions, radios, and all sorts of electronics’ screens can send wake messages to children’s beds 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. Provide buffers: It can be difficult for children to transition from one activity to another without warning or lead-up. If you’re going to start the bedtime routine at 7:30, at 7:15 begin to support your child in calming down. Tell your child there are about 15 minutes to bed and give the choice between quiet toys, an episode of their favorite show, stories, or coloring (for example). All of these will help your child begin the calming process.
7. 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 or she stays in bed until the timer rings, you will come in for one more kiss. Continue to set the timer for longer and longer so that your child learns to stay in bed.
8. Make a book: In a world that is constantly moving, sometimes a child does not know what it means to calm down and sleep. Provide him/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 breath 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 that 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 over 30 years. She has worked as a teacher, a director, a trainer, and a family educator in numerous child care 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 as well as travelled 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.