Banish Bedtime Battles!

For many parents, when we think of the “dream” bedtime routine, we imagine tucking in our smiling children each night, kissing them on the cheek, and tiptoeing out of the room as they begin to softly snore. Well, for many parents, the nightly bedtime routine is more of a nightmare. Kids refusing to go to bed, coming up with excuses to avoid bed, and coming out of bed in the middle of the night over and over again are just a few of the common problems parents struggle with. For effectively winning these bedtime battles, it takes a No Wimpy Parenting approach:

1)      Don’t wait until the last minute: Many parents start the frantic “bath, brush your teeth, p.j’s” routine 15 minutes before they want their children in bed. This tactic backfires for the parent and kid: The parent has asked for something that is impossible to achieve. The kid is stressed because the routine is so rushed and there is no time to relax (an essential ingredient for a smooth bedtime routine). Allow 30 – 45 minutes for a relaxing routine involving bath or shower, quiet reading or play, snuggles and bed.

2)      No electronics an hour before desired bedtime: Research shows exposure to any screen suppresses melatonin, the natural hormone our body produces that makes us sleepy. Establish a family rule that all t.v.’s, computers, video games, and phones are shut down at a certain time every night. (I know, I know, all moms have no trouble falling asleep in front of t.v. at night but that’s because we’re all sleep deprived!)

3)      Establish a positive, brief routine when tucking the child in that has a definitive end. Many children will continue to ask questions, ask for water, hop out of bed for “one more” something…anything to postpone the moment you walk out of the room. Establish a policy that once their head is on the pillow, they can’t get out of bed (unless it’s a bathroom necessity). Have a fun ritual like saying prayers, giving silly kisses or hugs, turning on night light, and walking out.

4)      Have consequences for misbehavior and rewards for positives: Give warnings in advance that if the child continues to come out of bed, refuses to lay down, etc. they will get a consequence the next day (no t.v. before school, extra chores in the morning, or have an earlier bedtime the next night, etc.). Use a sticker chart or marbles in the jar to reward kids for smooth bedtimes each night. Have the child trade out for a fun reward on the weekend – trip to the dollar store, ice cream shop, or extra videogame/t.v. time.

5)      Consider your child could be over-tired. Kids and teens who are chronically sleep deprived release a stress hormone that is essentially like a boost of caffeine – this stress hormone makes them hyper, irritable, and wild (which is why many parents are surprised to find out that their kids are actually exhausted, because they don’t seem tired). Try backing up the bedtime in 15 minute increments until you find your child falling asleep much more quickly at night and being less hyper and irritable at bedtime.

Parents have been battling their children to go to bed since the cavemen (and women) insisted their children lay down in their bedrock beds. It’s an age-old battle, but follow these steps and your children (and you) will drift off to sweet dreams.


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