Bedtime often comes with a headache and a wave of nausea for parents. Visions of temper tantrums and creeping-feet-out-of-bed-for-the-15th-time haunt us senseless. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Bedtime can be an enjoyable time in your home. Yes, I promise. It really can. And as a bonus, you won’t go nuts.
Before I offer you trouble shooting for those nightmares, I must mention that a good routine is key. If you work on this consistently, you will see a return! Children are comfortable with a routine and once they know it’s in place, they are much less likely to challenge.
Tips for establishing a good bedtime routine
- A good bedtime routine is loose and not bound to a set list: reading, singing, rocking, etc. That way it can be changed if time is short and a babysitter can put them to bed without a fuss. If a child CAN NOT go to bed without a story, he/she is set-up for disaster. Stories are great, just make sure it’s not mandatory. In my home, we don’t usually have a story at bedtime. We read together all day!
- The time for bed should be a consistent window of time. For example, my 8,7, and 5 year old go to bed around 8:30pm. Anytime between 8:00 and 9:00 is fair, but 10pm is not.
- Arrange for your child to get 10-12 hours of sleep every night. That’s what pediatricians recommend and no, your child isn’t the only one in the world who just doesn’t need that much sleep. Remember: lost sleep makes it harder to sleep. Don’t sacrifice a nap hoping for better nighttime sleep…it will backfire. An overtired child makes everyone miserable.
- Have a wind down time. No later than 8:00pm, my kids are in their rooms and in their beds. They are permitted to read quietly and occasionally use technology. By the time lights go out, they are settled. Plus you get the added benefit of enhancing their reading skills.
- Have high expectations for bed time. I expect my kids to go to bed when I tell them to. Crazy thought, huh? As a parent, I refuse to accept anything other than what I expect. If things aren’t going that way, I work at changing the behavior. I don’t give up and let the child decide what is best.
- Be mindful of chocolate, sugar and caffeine consumed after 3pm. They really do make a difference!
Our bedtime habits started when my kids were very young
I am sensitive to the fact that most people reading this post are trying to correct bad habits, but I can’t talk about good bedtime habits without at least mentioning that I put in years of hard work at the beginning. Sleep was one thing that I wanted my kids to be very good at, so I concentrated much effort on training them to enjoy sleeping. I don’t regret that. No one in my family dreads bedtime or throws fits. Even my 2 year old is generally very compliant on his own. I promise you, this is largely because of the training that I have done with them as infants/toddlers.
So how do you get your kids to stay in bed?
For some parents, getting your kids to STAY in bed is the biggest challenge. I can’t give you a magic pill and no two children are alike, so you are going to need to experiment with what works for you. For me, it started with consistent training as infants/toddlers and then a little trouble shooting when things aren’t working like they should.
Consequences: if my kids get out of bed, they are taking away my time to work, so I naturally must get that time back the next night. Which means that I have them go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night. This is really the only tool I need with my 8,7, and 5 year old. I explain this consequence to them exactly like I just did for you. They understand my need and actually are fairly respectful of it.
Rewards: My personal parenting policy is never to reward a child who is doing that which is expected…with goods like toys and food. But I do reward with lots of verbal praise. Usually to another sibling or friend. Something like, “I am so proud of Nathan, he stays in his bed and goes right to sleep.” It’s always good to praise a little more than they actually do, speaking promise into their little hearts. Of course, Nathan doesn’t do this every night, but it sure compels him to!
Train them: if you’ve got a little guy who is still learning, be ready to take the time needed to train them. Sit outside the bedroom door with a book or your computer until he falls asleep. If the tot gets out of bed, say ” it’s night time. Get back in bed.” If he does it again- say nothing- just point. Pick him up and carry him back to bed if you need to. Continue to monitor until the behavior stops. If you are consistent, it will only take a few nights for him to get the message.
Biblical Chastisement: I’m thinking it’s no longer legal to suggest that you spank a child for disobedience (which I think is a shame), but I would suggest that you seek the Bible for help with disobedience.
Leave them in the crib until they are 40: alright, I might be exaggerating a tad here, but seriously most parents take their child out of the crib far too soon. Leave them in there as long as possible. Even if he/she can climb out…this is a good time to train them NOT to. It is my policy to leave them in the crib until they potty train. Currently, my 2.5 year old is still in the crib. He can climb in and out on his own, but I have trained him to wait until I allow him to do so. The transition to a bed will be much easier this way.
No lie. While I was typing this post, my three big kids all got out of bed. It’s funny how God likes to keep me humble and it reminds me to tell you that you are a good mom (or dad). Please don’t buy the lie that you aren’t. Kids are going to disobey, even when they generally have a particular skill mastered Don’t be discouraged! You will have plenty of nights with little children all nestled in bed…
Still looking for practical tips? I’ve polled my readers for a few ideas.
Tips from my readers:
Clip lights and book slings… if they are in their bed at bedtime they can have 15-30 minutes to read, look at books, draw, etc. Then we come around and say prayers with them. (Suzanne)
Wear them out! (Laura)
We made their beds inviting and a true place of peace and rest, and we’ve provided night lights and cracked doors when they’ve wanted them. None of ours have ever wanted to get out of their beds. Ever! I feel that is the grace of God! We need more of that grace in other areas, though, such as getting the kids to eat vegetables. (Frances)
They know if they act out their bedtime will move up 15-30 minutes the next night. (Christy)
Don’t give them any other option. (Tonya)
One thing that really helps is having kids that are actually tired. Sounds silly right? I have found that so many kids do not get enough physical activity and are really not tired so they are up and down. I try to shoot for about 2 hours of outside play time on most days. Makes a world of difference! (Amy)
We let them listen to great audiobooks. (Jane)
We give them a dime for every night they do a good job. (Debbie)
When my daughter was younger, I’d give her “get out of bed” tokens. She could use a token to get up to get a drink or go to the bathroom, whatever, but once they’re gone, she’s done and has to stay in bed. (Kelley)
Have kids share a room (Jen)
Cozy ambiance in their bedroom, reading books, air filter white noise and low background native music. I sometimes fall asleep there too. Zzzzzzzz! (Mari)
I put a child proof knob cover on the INSIDE of their room. (Maribeth)
Being consistent and making sure they know they HAVE to stay there! (Heather)
We lay with our kids until they fall asleep. Because that’s something we have always done it only takes about 10 minutes before everyone is asleep. That way we don’t have to have ANY issues with kids getting out of bed or worrying about what they do when/if they’re still awake. (Megan)
Got questions or other tips? Leave a comment and join in the discussion!
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