Bedtime and sleeping are such normal, yet loaded activities. It’s tricky because you can’t actually make your child sleep. It’s a skill they need to learn and often, the more we try to teach, the more push-back we get. Some routines and tips can make a big difference.
- Don’t use TV before bed as a relaxing tool. While many an adult can easily fall asleep in front of a screen, it can actually hinder the sleep response in children. The type of light interferes with the production of melatonin, which is needed for sleep. Computer and game screens have the same effect. Try to schedule screen time earlier in the evening. PS, Mom and Dad—this applies to you as well!
- Don’t fall asleep with your child as this sends an unhelpful message—you can’t do this without me!
- Don’t be inconsistent. If the routine is “No story until PJ’s are on” and they disregard this, sometimes a missed story is an appropriate, logical result. Alternatively, if the routine is “Story time starts at 8pm”, you can start the story even if they aren’t ready (no warnings and nagging). My children used to go into a total panic at missing the book and be ready for bed in minutes.
- Create a routine with your child that you can both live with. Bring all aspects to the discussion: playtime after dinner, bath time (how many days a week?), preparations for the next day, (backpack and clothes ready?), story time, teeth brushing, in-bed chats, lights out. Maybe it’s the same every night, maybe not. Start sooner. Rushing is almost always counterproductive. Let a timer be their reminder.
- Acknowledge that transitions are hard. Say “I know you want to keep playing, but it’s time for bed.” Empathize with your child. Say, “I’m sorry you don’t have time to finish doing that, but it’s time for bed.” Then, be firm and follow through with the plan.
- Be realistic about the activity level in the household in the evening. Children often get their second wind after dinner and ramp up their level of activity. Spouses arriving home at this exact hour can disrupt the best-laid schedules, as can late sports practices and extracurricular activities. Build in some cool-down time.
- Ease a child into sleep with a little chat with the lights out. Keep it short and sweet. Alternatively, as your child grows, this can be a time when they’ll share the most information and you may have some of your best chats.