“How do I get my children to sleep at night? They won’t stay in bed!”
“Bedtime in my house is a nightmare! I dread it.”
“My kids are whiny and cranky in the morning because they are not getting enough sleep. What can I do?”
These are complaints that I hear often from parents. Bedtime can be quite challenging.
Many times when kids don't listen to us it is because they are testing us to see if we mean what we say. And many times we don't mean what we say because we are so unsure about our parenting. We feel bad or mean when we try to get our kids to sleep, eat their vegetables, be polite, all the things parents are responsible for so that their children will grow up civilized and productive members of society. Not only that, if we make them do the things they don't want to do they might not like us or they will be unhappy and we so badly want them to like us and be happy. Or we feel like we are traumatizing our children and they will grow up emotionally stilted. And there are times where we are so tired that we don't have the energy to do all that needs to be done. We cannot enforce anything; let alone bedtime.
But kids need us to be strong, firm and even unyielding when we set our limits and rules. Even though they might fight against us they don't want us to lose the battle. Surprisingly kids feel more secure and are happier when their parents set limits and stick to them. This even includes going to bed on time.
Here are 6 ways to get your child to bed on time.
1. Know in your heart that bedtime is important for your kids
We all know that kids who have gotten the sleep they need are less likely to be whiny and cranky. But science goes even further. All the latest studies have touted the importance of bedtime. A regular bedtime helps brain development. Kids who have consistent bedtimes scored better on cognitive tests in reading, math and spatial relations. Not only that, early bedtimes can prevent obesity in children. I also think that families that have regular bedtimes are calmer and happier. It is easier to run a household when both adults and kids are getting the rest they need.
Knowing the benefits, we can rest easy that enforcing bedtime is good for kids. We will not traumatize or hurt our children in any way when we are strict about getting them the rest they need. We can feel confident that we truly have our child’s welfare at heart. When our kids balk, instead of saying to ourselves, “I am being so mean to them by making them go to sleep when they don't want to…” We should say: “My kids need me to get them into bed on time. They need me to be firm and enforce their bedtime for their physical growth, cognitive development, their sanity and mine!”
2. Use the voice of authority
Oftentimes kids would rather be doing anything then going to sleep. They have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Their room could be dark and boring, while the rest of the house is full of light and potential for fun. This should not deter us; we can be firm when we are putting our kids to bed.
Kids need to know that you mean business. We want to avoid using wishy washy language or phrases that might highlight our uncertainty:
- “Can you get into bed already! Please???”
- “Stop jumping on the bed, okay?”
Instead we need to be more authoritative and sure:
- “Time for bed”
- “We have time to read one story.”
- “Cups of water are to be gotten now, not later.”
- “Heads on the pillow.”
- “Bedtime for 5 year olds is 7:30pm.”
Repeat as needed.
3. Put in place bedtime rituals.
Kids thrive on routines and rituals. Have a set one for bedtime that you can enforce with your voice of authority. When my kids were young our routine looked like this:
Snack, brush teeth, bath, pajamas, 2 books, Shema prayer and some snuggles and kisses.
Whatever you decide, try to be consistent. They will start to move more naturally from one to the other.
You can even make a picture chart showing what your routine is. That way when your child is not following the routine, lets say he doesn’t want to brush his teeth, you can just point to the picture. You can be forceful without saying a word.
If your children are a bit older, it is helpful if you develop a routine with your child’s input. Make some time to sit with your child/ren and ask some of the following questions.
- How can we make bedtime go smoothly?
- What can we do to make sure that you are in bed on time?
- How can we make bedtime a better and calmer?
4. Be silly but not too silly
You do want bedtime to be playful, but still low key. Roughhousing, wrestling or tickling can give your child a second wind. Instead, you can read a funny book while using funny voices or have a ritual where you kiss and say good night to all your child’s stuffed animals.
Another silly activity and a great way to help your child cooperate and get into bed is to give them silly choices:
- Do you want to wear your pajamas inside out or right side up?
- Do you want to hop or skip into bed?
- Do you want to sleep with your feet on the pillow and head under the covers?
5. It can take some time and patience, be strong
A common question (or complaint) is “But what if my child comes out of his room?”
It is helpful to brainstorm with your child to come up with some solutions on how he can stay in bed. Kids are more likely to comply if they have had a say in what needs to be done.
You can name the problem and ask if he has any ideas on how to solve it:
Parent: I see that you are having trouble staying in bed. Lets put our heads together and see if we can come up with any solutions?
When I have done this with my kids we have come up with a variety of options to help them stay in bed. Some ideas were:
- Lamp by the bed
- Listening to quiet music
- Books on tape
- Mommy staying for 5 minutes after Shema
- Coloring with Color Wonder (no mess crayons and coloring book)
But sometimes we just need to be firm, especially with younger children. Parenting is hard work. You often have to do things over and over again until your child understands that you mean business.
That might mean that every time your child comes out of his room take him back in without fanfare, talking as little as possible (or use the short phrases that we outline in our use your voice of authority sections).
Soon your child will get the picture that you mean what you say and will not be rewarded by any extra attention, negative or otherwise.
One last thing:
Kids can get us with their creative last minute requests, one more hug, one more drink of water, one more book, or one more bathroom trip. Try to fit this all into your bedtime routine. You can say:
- “Last call for the bathroom is right now!”
- “Waters are being given out now. Last call for water next to your bed!”
You can also give them choices:
- “It is almost time for sleep, do you want 5 or ten kisses before I leave?”
- “You get to choose the book, do you want one or 2 books tonight?”
Let them know that they can only come out if there is an emergency.
It also fair to say, “After 8pm, Mommy/Daddy needs to take care of other things around the house, or I need some quiet time to myself. This will help me be a better Mommy tomorrow.
If your child tries to get you to fall into his “just one more thing” trap don't get pulled into an argument with him or give in to his requests. If you do, you are giving him exactly what he wants, a delayed bedtime and extra attention. It will also be harder to get back into your bedtime routine.
Bedtime can be a tough time for parents, knowing its good for your kids, using the voice of authority, using routine and rituals, and being firm about that one last thing can all help to make bedtime more pleasurable.
Have a helpful tip? Share it in the comment section below.