Making Bedtime Stress-Free


This is a guest-post, written by Dana Obleman, Parenting Consultant and creator of The Sleep Sense Program. Dana reached out to me after reading about my exhausting bedtime and nighttime struggles with my daughter Leyna. I’m happy to have her posting here today and sharing her tips for an easier bedtime!

It’s been one of those days—and despite your best efforts, it’s an hour past your children’s bedtime and you’re still trying to get them into their pajamas.

Half an hour later, you’re still trying to get the kids into bed but they’re busy goofing around instead of brushing their teeth. Gaagh!

The next thing you know, you’re raising your voice and snapping at them to “get to bed NOW or else!” and your last few minutes of family time are filled with unnecessary strife that leaves you frazzled and feeling like a less-than-stellar parent.

The good news is, bedtime doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here are five tips to get the stress out of your evening routine and end your time with the kids on a high note.

1. Give a five-minute warning

Nobody likes to be pulled away from what they’re doing without any kind of warning. For children this is especially true. They thrive on structure and routine to give them a sense of security and awareness of their own boundaries.

If you give them a warning letting them know that in five minutes, they’ve got to put away their toys or turn off the TV or computer and go brush their teeth, you’ll get a lot less resistance when those five minutes are up.

2. Create a regular bedtime routine 

Children thrive on a bedtime routine that lets them know what’s coming so they never feel caught off guard. A warm bath, a couple of stories, maybe a glass of warm milk—all these activities help the body and brain transition more easily from day to night and create a sense of calm expectation that allows sleep to come more easily.

A good time frame for a bedtime routine is 20-30 minutes in length.

3. A timer is your friend

When you’re busy having fun, five minutes can seem like an eye blink. No wonder kids get upset when you tell them playtime is over!

A timer is a great way to help your kids feel like they have more control over the situation and defuse the power struggle. After all, it’s not YOU who are saying it’s time to put the toys away—it’s the timer.

Of course, in order for the timer to be effective it has to be the law—which means you have to obey it as much as the kids do.

4. Set a story limit—and stick to it

“Just one more, Mommy!”

How many times have you caved in to that request?

The problem with caving is that your children will expect you to do it every time. And on the nights when you don’t give in, they won’t understand why you’re not playing according to the established pattern and this can make them feel confused and upset.

That’s why it’s good to choose a specific number of books (our family limit is two) and then always read THAT number and no more. It creates a sense of expectation and security that will help your children fall asleep more easily.

5. Follow through with consequences 

If your kids have never followed a bedtime routine, you may experience some resistance when you try to introduce one.

If your kids complain, act out, or ignore you, the best thing to do to remain calm and consistent and let them know exactly what the consequences will be if they refuse to do what you ask.

Then you absolutely have to follow through on those consequences.

For example, if you have to ask your kids three times to stop playing their video game and go brush their teeth and they just ignore you, there should be some sort of meaningful consequence for that. Maybe it means you won’t read them a story because there isn’t time for one.

Of course you will all be sad to miss out on story time that night, but you can be sure they will listen to you the next time you tell them to brush their teeth!

It only takes a few nights to make bedtime a dream

Imagine spending quality family time with your kids each day before putting them to bed at an hour that gives them all the healthy sleep they need.

… Then imagine how wonderful it will be to follow up that great experience with a few hours of “you” time each night!

Sound like a dream? It doesn’t have to be. Just follow the tips outlined above and in a few days you’ll be amazed at how much easier—and more fun—your children’s bedtime will be.

Of course, as with all parenting decisions, you should always trust your gut and do what you feel is best for you and your child. Even if this method doesn’t work perfectly for you, I hope you gained a little insight into how you might be able to change up bedtime if it’s a struggle in your house. 

If you’re struggling with more than just bedtime, check out Dana’s website. She offers guidance for parents who are struggling with their child’s sleep problems; maybe The Sleep Sense Program would be a good fit for you.

I hope you get some rest tonight! 

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  1. Thanks for the post. I’d love to hear what you did with Leyna, since I am struggling with bedtime for my 10month old.

    • Bedtime is a lot better for us. Heck, she’ll practically put herself to sleep. Where we are still struggling is keeping her that way. For example, last night she woke every 20 minutes for 2-3 hours. We go in and replace her paci, pat her back, we even brought her to bed, but she wouldn’t go to sleep. It’s beyond frustrating some nights. Luckily, about 3 out of 5 nights she sleeps ok- meaning she wakes only once. Every now and then, though, it’s rough. Mainly, my husband has had to step up and go in to pat her back and give her her paci. If I go in, she’ll demand that I nurse her, and if I refuse, she’ll throw a major fit.

  2. I’m happy to say (in a non-smug way, truly) that this is how we’ve done bedtime since Day 1 & with a few exceptions, we’ve had very little trouble with Harrison sleeping.

    I’ve had friends ask why we bathe him every single night without fail, whether we’re at home or Gram’s or a hotel. But it’s because a bath is his routine & it tells him that bedtime isn’t too far away.

    Plus, toddlers are disgusting. Homeboy needs to be scrubbed.

    • LOL “Homeboy needs to be scrubbed”!
      Totally the case with us too. We have done bath every night since he was a couple of months old, and now I can’t imagine not doing it, he is totally sticky and stinks at the end of the day, 😉

  3. I have to admit, we’ve never had Z on a solid routine. He did give us a bit of trouble for a few months around 10 mos, but, he’s never really fought bedtime. We’ve learned along the way some things that do help him unwind, thgouh (a bath, a cup of water, no lights on anywhere upstairs, and his sisters cannot be in their room (oh, the fun he must be missing!)). He loves morning stories, but not bedtime stories. Weirdo.

  4. Great advice! We’ve recently implemented some of this with our 4 year old son, who had grown accustomed to mom laying in bed with him until he fell asleep, or dad sitting next to him rubbing his back. With a new little brother on the way, we knew this habit had to break. So far, it’s going pretty well. He doesn’t like to be in his room alone, and he yells and screams, but he doesn’t get out of bed. We reassure him we’re there, and sometimes we poke our head in to remind him to relax. Every night is a little better. One thing I want to add, for kids who are more sensitive about transitions, don’t be afraid to start earlier with the warnings. We usually give a 15 or 20 minute warning, and every 5 minutes after, and it really helps ease him into the idea. And routine is key! We didn’t realize how much having a set routine, including keeping teeth brushing and story reading to the *minute*, would help.

    • Very true. I find with my 4 year old, especially when he’s doing something really fun, it’s great to give really advance warnings, counting down from 20 minutes or so. Hope your transition keeps getting better!

  5. We had a great bedtime routine with Leyna tonight, now EVERY FINGER IS CROSSED that the girl actually stays asleep, especially during the hours of 12-4 a.m.

  6. Warnings & routine have definitely worked for us, too.

    Another idea I had – but have never got around to implementing – was to find a 20 minute or so piece of classical music to play to get on pjs, brush teeth and read to. When the music is up, we leave the room, lights out. If there is so much screwing around with pjs, etc. that no stories are read before the music is over, so sad too bad, lights are off, regardless.

    I use a 3-minute version of the William Tell Overture when we need to do something fast and making it a race against the end of the music has always worked. It also is impossible to move slow to that music.

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