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How to I Get My Kids to Go to Bed?

How to I Get My Kids to Go to Bed?

Posted on May 16th, 2017 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C

If you have young children, you don’t need me to tell you what it’s like getting through bedtime.  The hassle, the arguments, the frustrations – it happens to all of us.  Don’t worry – it’s not just you!  Bedtime is often one of the most challenging times of day. And the truth is, no matter what tips and advice you get, it’s likely to be that way at least some of the time.  Nothing anyone tells you is going to make the difficulty of childrearing disappear. That said, there are certainly approaches you can use to make it easier and more manageable.  Here are some ideas to start with:

1. Wind down before bedtime

Kids naturally will keep going as long as they still have energy. However, their battery might not run out exactly when you need it to. No child can go from full-throttle activity to bedtime instantly.  Therefore, it is wise to start preparing your children for bed gradually for even several hours before bedtime.

What does that look like? It means that if bedtime is 7 PM, then after 4:30 or 5 they should not be engaging in wild, high-energy activities (sports, tag, roughhousing, etc.).  Around that time you can transition them to calmer activities like board games, reading, or coloring.  Dinner probably follows that in the schedule, then perhaps bathtime, which can be relaxing (although for some particularly spirited kids perhaps not so much).  Once the kids are in pajamas you might want to spend some quiet time with them playing with dolls or reading a story, and finally a few minutes snuggling in bed or rubbing their head as they go to sleep.  Winding down to less and less energetic activities will help your children make the transition to sleep successfully.

2. Use rituals

Following the same pattern every night helps children know what to expect and their bodies get used to the flow of the evening. Dinner-bath-teeth-bed is one path you could take to keep things on target.  Incorporate pleasant moments into the routine, rituals that your kids will come to expect and look forward to. Some ideas might be:

  • At dinner everyone shares one thing they are thankful for from that day.
  • Back-scratching at the end of bathtime.
  • Snuggling up and reading a book every night before bed.

There are many ways you can ritualize the evening routine that can help children feel comfortable with the process. And being explicit about the routine so that everyone acknowledges it helps kids be aware of and buy into the process.

3. Set limits

It is completely normal to face resistance when it’s time for the setting limits at bedtimefinal separation at night. Requests for food, water, bathroom, etc. are all common tools in the child’s arsenal for delaying the last goodnight. To deal with these, have a conversation with your kids during the day at a time when people aren’t rushed, upset, time, or otherwise compromised. Explain to them what the rules are in terms of the evening routine and the expectations of them. Decide what your limits are going to be and make these clear to the children.  There is a good degree of flexibility in what you can accommodate; mostly it depends on your own willingness and flexibility.  Are you willing to allow one glass of water before bed or none?  A last-minute bite to eat (not junk food, please – a rice cake or slice of bread is safe!), or no?  Communicate the limits to your kids and then stand by them.  Kids will naturally test these limits, often with crying, tantrums, etc., but generally speaking if you can stand your ground for a few days they will learn that the limits are real and they are firm.  (If you are usually good about the limits but you give in from time to time, you are giving children the message that if they push hard enough they can get their way. That will lead to a lot more resistance! More on this in another post.)

Again, there is nothing you can do to make bedtime go 100% smoothly 100% of the time.  Be real about your expectations – bedtime really ought to take not less than 90 minutes from start to finish – be ready for bumps in the road, and don’t give up!

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