How to Make Bedtime Easier for You and Your Little One
Imagine: You tell your child that it’s time for bed. After twenty minutes of negotiating, ten books, five hugs, three glasses of water, and maybe a tantrum or two, your little one is still not asleep! Does this sound familiar? Many parents struggle with their child’s compliance at bedtime, and inadequate sleep in young children often causes challenges the next day for both parent and child. Here are a couple of tips to help make bedtime a little bit easier for everybody involved:
Establish a routine
Establishing a predictable routine for bedtime can help your child settle into their body’s “internal clock”. Having an unpredictable bedtime routine or sleep schedule can throw off the body’s clock, and cause difficulty winding down for sleep. Creating a routine helps your child’s body and mind ease more naturally into sleep as the routine is reinforced each night. Turning off electronics prior to lights out in lieu of a less stimulating activity such as reading a book or playing with quiet toys, can help your child’s mind wind down. If your child is not used to a bedtime routine, or if the routine can be negotiated on a nightly basis, it will take time and consistency to establish this pattern; however, remaining consistent is crucial, and your persistence will likely be well worth it in the long run.
Involve your child in the process
It is often effective to involve your child in the process of creating their own bedtime routine to create “buy-in”, and help your child take a part of the responsibility for bedtime. For example, sit down with your child with a poster-board and colorful markers and ask them what they think their bedtime routine should look like. You can use words or pictures or both, depending on your child’s age. Post this routine at your child’s eye-level so that they can easily see it. Provide choices at each step, and let your child be an active part of this routine as much as possible. An example routine might look like:
Turn off TV or electronics (Let them press the “off” button)
Use the bathroom (If you use a potty chart, give a sticker for trying, etc.)
Pick pajamas and put them on (Give 2-3 choices and let them decide)
Brush teeth with favorite toothbrush (Go buy toothbrush of child’s favorite character)
Play with quiet toys (Make these “special” toys they only get at bedtime)
Pick books (Give child book choices)
Hugs and kisses (Ask how many they want)
Lights out at 8:15 PM
Purchase or make a kid-friendly clock
For young children, having a large clock with colorful sections to show your child what they should be doing at each part of the routine can be really fun, and a good way to help stay on-track at bedtime. These clocks can be purchased, or you can take a large clock, remove the glass/plastic face, and add different sections of colorful construction paper or use permanent marker to color in time frames for each step of the routine. For example, 7:30-7:45 may be green, 7:45-8:00 may be blue, and so forth. This way, you can point to the clock and ask the child what tasks they should be working on if the clock is showing blue. This is a great way to help the child take personal responsibility for their tasks at bedtime, provides a source of positive self-esteem, pride, and developmentally appropriate autonomy when they know what they should be doing on “green” or “blue”, and a boost of fun!
Be consistent through behavioral difficulties
Establishing a brand-new routine can be a challenge and will take time, especially if your child is not used to a routine, or if they are used to being able to “negotiate” this routine by lingering, asking for one more episode, or five more minutes on the iPad, or throwing a tantrum. It is possible that you will see behavioral challenges increase upon the establishment of a new routine. However, persisting through these challenges is crucial to creating a new system in which your child goes to bed more easily in the long run. You will have to create a new association in which regardless of the behavioral attempts to stay up longer, you insist that it is time for the TV to go off, the iPad to be put away, etc., and that it is now time for the bedtime routine. This is why the child’s buy-in can be so helpful and important in creating a brand-new system. Your child may get out of bed 100 times and attempt to convince you that they are not tired. It is crucial that you continue to stick with the routine each of the 100 attempts. Once your child sees that no matter what they do, you’re going to persist with this new system, you will begin see positive changes. Persistence is critical!
Give your child something to look forward to
The conversations before bed can be some of the most interesting conversations a parent gets to have. Your child likely pulls out all the stops and asks mind-bending questions, becomes thirstier than ever, and probably has fascinating observations they insist they must share with you before they go to sleep. Get a special nighttime journal, write down their questions and let them know you’ll give them the answers tomorrow. Write the answers in their book (silly, true, whatever!) after they go to sleep and share them the following night. Let your child know that you want to hear about their dreams in the morning, and invite them to go to sleep so that they can have their fun dreams. Teach your child to count sheep in their head, and challenge them to count as high as they can with their eyes closed (to see the sheep), and tell you about it tomorrow. Use incentives that work for your child; I would recommend not using food-based rewards, as giving your child M&M’s every morning for sleeping can quickly become a slippery slope. Choose something that motivates your child, and don’t be afraid to get creative!
Bedtime with young children can be a challenge. However, creating a predictable routine with your child, involving your child in the routine, providing choices, using kid-friendly tools, creativity, and maintaining consistency can help bedtime go much more smoothly for everyone!