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!