As parents, we tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with bedtimes.
On the upside, it’s an opportunity for some soothing downtime with our families as we watch them wind down the day. We get to watch them splash around in the bath, cuddle up, read some stories, sing some songs, and wrap ourselves in the magic of childhood and family life.
Or, on the other hand, we might spend an hour-and-a-half chasing and badgering them to put down their toys, get in the tub, get into their pajamas, and finish it off with five or six sessions of them coming out of their room with some bogus excuse, ending in yelling, threats and tears.
Of course, given the choice, everyone prefers option A, including the little ones. No child wants to go to bed in tears after a battle with their parents. So why do they kick up such a fuss? Well, they might be reluctant to call it a night because they think they’re missing out on a good time, they might feel they’re not tired, or they might just feel like testing their boundaries.
The good news is, you can minimize those nighttime battles by establishing a predictable, strategic bedtime routine using these five tips.
Give a heads-up.
When they’re told that they have to stop an activity they’re enjoying, kids respond much better to the, “Five Minute” approach. It’s a less abrupt approach that allows them to continue whatever they’re doing while processing the fact that they have to let it go for the night.
I find five minutes to be just about the perfect amount of time to allow them to carry on with whatever they’re doing. It’s long enough for them to get their last little bit of enjoyment out of whatever they’re doing, and short enough that they don’t lose track of the fact that it’s almost time to call it quits.
Get into a rut.
That expression usually has negative connotations, but when it comes to bedtime, your routine should be predictable, repetitive and consistent.
A repetitive routine means that your little one knows what to expect, and when they know the routine, they’ll actually start to enjoy the process. If they get to do something fun one night, they’ll want to do it again the next night, and they’ll get upset if they’re not allowed to. And, as we all know, it only takes a small push in the wrong direction to start them on the path to a meltdown.
Avoid high-energy activities.
A lot of parents try to “burn off” their child’s energy before bed, which seems reasonable enough, but a big bout of exercise right before bed is typically a bad idea. Kids, like adults, need to wind down for a period of time before they go to bed. Their brains and bodies need to prepare for bed, and tearing around the house or the yard sends the opposite signal.
Have your kids get their energy out during the day, and keep the evening hours reserved for more relaxing activities. Stories, songs and a bath are the best ways to get ready for bed.
Establish consequences and stick to them.
We often expect our kids to use a little common sense, but they might not share the same logic that we do, so it’s essential that they understand what’s expected of them. Let them know what time they need to be in bed, and what time they need to start getting ready, and what the consequence will be if they don’t cooperate.
There’s no question that they’re going to test the boundaries here and there, so let them know that the consequences are written in stone. Once they realize that you’re not enforcing the rules, they’ll have no second thoughts about breaking them.
Practice what you preach.
Children learn from your example, even if they’re not eyewitnesses to your behavior. If they hear you talking about how you got to bed late, they’ll get the impression that sleep isn’t a priority. Teach them to value sleep by valuing sleep yourself. It will help them to accept their bedtime as non-negotiable, and has the added benefit of keeping you well-rested and running at the top of your game.
The whole operation can take a few nights to get into a groove, but if you’re consistent and diligent, your child will accept and even embrace it. I assure you, it’s worth the effort. After it’s implemented and becomes second nature, the only drama in your evenings will be on that night’s episode of The Bachelorette.
Dana has been a child sleep consultant for 13 years, and is the author of The Sleep Sense Program, which has helped over 57,000 families get their kids sleeping through the night. She has trained over 150 consultants in ten different countries, and has been featured on CNN, The Washington Post, and other prominent media publications. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter, watch her instructional videos on herYouTube channel, and listen to her podcast, The Sleep Sense Show, on iTunes.
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