Do you struggle to get your little tyke(s) into bed each night—and to keep them there? You’re not alone! “Bedtime battles” are a real thing, and many parents experience this nightly skirmish.
The good news?
Whether your little one is going through her Terrible Twos, your nine-year-old son has some unresolved bedtime fears, or your teen is staying up until the crack of dawn playing GTA V, there are ways you can facilitate a healthier and less stressful bedtime routine.
Of course, the methods you decide to implement will depend on the age of your children as well as your and your partner’s preferences. The most important thing is to be consistent while still being open to new methods—but we’ll get more into that later.
For now, let’s look at the best ways to dissolve those unpleasant bedtime battles!
Toddlers and Young Children
Children can be especially finicky about bedtime from the ages of 2 to 12. There are three major factors involved when it comes to getting your young’uns to bed on time:
In other words: Young children tend to fare better at bedtime when they are rewarded for their good behavior, allowed time before bed to relax and unwind, and given a fair share of responsibility in the matter.
There are several ways you can implement these factors into your nightly bedtime routine. Let’s look at tips and methods for each factor, shall we? Feel free to pick and choose the ones that you think will work best for you, your partner, and your little one.
Many children are more motivated to meet their parents’ bedtime expectations if there’s a reward of some sort. There are three common reward systems you might want to consider:
A Star Chart
This is a straightforward reward system best used for toddlers and very young children.
You simply create (or print out) a reward chart with cells for each night of the week. If your child goes to bed on time with no problems, you put a star in the cell for that night; if they refuse to go to bed that night or give you problems, you put a dot (or nothing at all). If your child earns a star for each night (or most nights) of the week, you give them a small agreed-upon reward. This could be a small toy or a trip to the ice cream parlor, for instance.
A Token System
A token system is slightly more complex, so it may work better for older children.
It follows the same basic principle as the previous system, but rather than placing a star on a chart, you give your child a “token” for each night they go to bed on time (and stay there). These tokens will work as currency that your child can exchange later for gifts or rewards.
This system may help motivate your child to go to bed on time more often so that they can more quickly build up a token stash and receive compensation.
Of course, some children may be more motivated when an immediate reward is available. This might mean promising your child an extra 30 minutes of video game time the following evening, or promising to read them a second bedtime story the following night.
If you expect your child to go to bed on time, it’s important that the home environment is quiet and relaxed well beforehand. By keeping things toned down in your house, you’re encouraging restfulness. There are a few things you can do to ensure a more relaxing evening for your little one.
Address their fears or concerns
This is a huge one! The reason why some children put off going to bed—or outright refuse to do so—is because they’re experiencing fears or concerns about bedtime and going to sleep. Your child may…
· …be afraid of the dark.
· …hear noises at night that frighten him or her.
· …be afraid of monsters under their bed or inside their closet.
· …be anxious or worried about events from the previous day (or expectations for the next day).
· …experience fears related to not waking up again after going to sleep.
Another common fear is that of missing out on something fun or exciting, especially if they know the “grown-ups” are going to be staying up.
However, your child may not open up about these fears unless you ask them. The next time your child is making a fuss about bedtime or doing everything they can to stall, try asking them why they don’t want to sleep and if they’re afraid of something.
If you discover your child does have fears or concerns, do your best to reassure them (“Mommy and Daddy will keep you safe…” and ask your child if there’s any way to alleviate their fears (such as putting a nightlight in their room).
Set a bedtime routine
Setting up a relaxing evening routine can work wonders for your child’s perception of bedtime. Instead of putting a “hard stop” on your child’s evening (which can frustrate them and make falling asleep more difficult), it’s more effective to gently lure them into bedtime through a series of events. For example:
1) One hour before bedtime: Only quiet or calming activities
2) 30 minutes before bedtime: Take a bath
3) 10 minutes before bedtime: Brush teeth
4) At bedtime: Read one or two bedtime stories
When you do this, bedtime will be less about putting a stop to fun and more about unwinding after a hard day’s play.
Give them some quiet time
Well in advance of your child’s bedtime, it’s essential that they spend some time in a restful and calming environment. This might mean restricting television or video game use after a certain time (or limiting their watching/playing to more calming subject matter) or engaging in relaxing activities with your child (such as coloring). The idea is to keep your child engaged in something that will calm them down instead of riling them up.
Give your child a transitional object
Many children hate bedtime because it separates them from their parents. Once the tucking in and bedtime story reading are over, the child is left alone—this can be stressful, especially for children who have bedtime fears or other forms of anxiety.
One way to combat this issue is through a so-called “transitional object.” This is an object (usually a stuffed animal or blanket) that a child typically turns to for comfort from an early age—it transitions your child from requiring your constant presence and reassurance to a state of greater independence. He or she will associate their transitional object with you (the parent) and the support/love you provide.
Allowing your child to keep this transitional object with them throughout the night can help soothe their fears and make them feel more comfortable with the idea of falling asleep.
Try a technique called “bedtime fading.”
Another reason many children detest bedtime is that they simply don’t feel sleepy yet. This is sometimes due to a circadian rhythm (also known as a sleep-wake cycle) that doesn’t align with the parent’s bedtime goals.
Bedtime fading is a technique designed to combat this issue in a natural, manageable way. Here’s how it works:
- You determine what your bedtime goals are.
- Over the course of weeks (or even months), you make your child’s bedtime earlier in increments.
For example, let’s say your child is currently going to sleep at 11:00 each night…but their “official” bedtime is 8:30. You would first set your child’s “new bedtime” to 10:45 and have them go to bed at this time for a couple of weeks; once they get used to it, move it up to 10:30. And so on it goes until you reach your desired bedtime of 8:30. Of course, you can also implement some of the reward techniques we mentioned earlier to help make this bedtime transition smoother and more enjoyable for your child.
Making sure your child gets enough sleep each night is important—but so is teaching him or her how to be responsible for themselves. When it comes to bedtime battles, there are often two separate factors at play:
1) Your child does not yet have a sense of self-responsibility related to bedtime, and
2) Your child currently feels powerless about bedtime, which is causing him or her to act out. You can allay these issues by involving your child in their own bedtime routine.
Try laying out as many options as possible before and during bedtime.
You could ask your child what activity they would like to do before bedtime, which PJs they would like to wear tonight, or which bedtime story they want to hear. This will give your child a voice regarding their evening schedule and make them feel more in control. It will also show them that you’re not trying to “be in charge,” but rather trying to help them take charge of a healthier evening schedule.
Troubleshoot and discuss any issues your child has with their current bedtime or schedule.
If your child refuses to go to bed when you want them to, there’s a reason. Having a discussion about this with your child can help you gain insight into their thoughts and into any underlying issues that may exist. Try asking questions about how you can make their bedtime easier for them, why they don’t want to sleep in the first place, and if there’s anything they would like to change about their evening schedule. Do your best to listen and to compromise where you can.
Consider living a “bedtime-free” lifestyle.
This is certainly not for every family, but some parents find that not giving their child a bedtime is the best way to encourage a healthy sleep schedule. The reasoning behind this is that you shouldn’t force a child to go to bed if they aren’t sleepy yet. By letting your child decide their own bedtime each night, you’re promoting healthy sleep habits and teaching your child responsibility.
Of course, in the event that your child fails to get adequate sleep, it’s crucial that you discuss this with them to help them make better decisions in the future.
By the time a child hits about the age of 13, bedtime tends to metamorphize from a set time by which to be in bed into a time when they should consider settling down for the night. To be fair, there isn’t too much you can do at this stage to enforce a bedtime—but there are a few things you can try in order to encourage healthier sleep habits.
Limit their use of technology before bed
The blue light emitted by cell phones and many other electronic devices inhibits melatonin production and thus disrupts sleep. It can also cause your teen to feel more alert and awake than they were before spending time on their phone or in front of the TV.
While it may be ideal to restrict your child’s technology use after a certain time, another alternative (if you wish to give them more freedom) is to discourage them from watching or playing anything that could be stressful, such as violent TV shows or video games. Rather, they should use their electronic devices for more relaxing activities; this might be listening to soft music, playing a simple game on their phone, or watching a more family-friendly TV show.
Give them the flexibility to sleep when they want to
Once teenagerhood sets in, it’s normal for your child to resent having you set a bedtime for them. Letting him or her decide their own bedtime each time can teach them responsibility and give them a better idea of their own sleep needs.
That said, it’s also important to set boundaries. For example, if your teen starts waking up grouchy in the morning or struggles to stay awake during the day, you should talk with him or her about it and suggest a more reasonable bedtime.
Get them in the habit of waking up in the morning without your help
If your teen is going to sleep at a time of their own choosing, they should also be responsible for getting themselves up in the morning. Get your teen in the habit of setting their own alarm clock for a reasonable time, and make it clear to him or her that it’s their responsibility to get up on time.
Reward them for going to sleep (and getting up) at a reasonable time
Depending on how old your child is, putting some sort of reward system in place might help encourage them to make better bedtime decisions. For example, you could agree upon a system where each morning your teen gets up on time with no attitude, he or she can spend extra time that evening doing an activity they enjoy (such as playing video games or texting friends).
Consistency is Key
The final point we’re going to cover is consistency. This is important in all aspects of parenting, and overcoming bedtime battles is no exception.
It’s crucial that you’re consistent with your expectations for bedtime and that you get him or her up at the same time every morning. This routine will help your child’s sleep-wake cycle fall in line with your expectations and show them that you’re serious about implementing a healthy sleep schedule.
In addition, you’ll need to make sure that your reactions are consistent; don’t scold your child one night for staying up, and then give in the next night. Be firm. Another note: If you promise your child a reward at the end of the day (or the end of week) for their good bedtime behavior, make sure you follow through.
Nightly bedtime battles with your little ones or teens can easily become a source of frustration and resentment—for both parties! We hope that this article gave you some insight into why your child may be avoiding bedtime, practical ideas on how to promote healthy sleep habits, and a little glimmer of hope.
Pick your favorite methods, play around with them a little, and find out what works. With the right combination, a good dose of consistency, and mutual respect between you and the little ones, your evenings should become much more enjoyable and less of a hassle.
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