If you are anything like me, you are tired of your kids not being tired at bedtime. Or, at least, not wanting to go to bed. Getting your kids to go to bed (and to sleep) is one of childhoods biggest milestones. If you conquer this hurdle while they are still very young, you will save yourself a lot of trouble through the years. Put in the effort now and you will be glad you did.
- Routine, routine, routine. Kids feel safe and secure when they know what to expect. Start a set amount of time before bed (20 minutes or so). This is the time for them to brush their teeth and put their P.J.’s on, get a sip of water etc. Then maybe read to them for five minutes and let them say their prayers. These last two things can be done in bed if you prefer. Whatever you decide to make a part of the routine, count on doing that every night (they will let you know if you forget).
- Make sure dinner is a healthy meal (low sugar and processed carbs). Your child’s belly should be comfortably full on foods that don’t cause indigestion, food sensitivities (of which gluten, dairy, and sugar are high on the list of culprits) and future low blood sugar (equalling awake or hungry).
- Nothing to drink for an hour before bedtime. I know I said they could take a sip of water as part of their bedtime routine but it should be just a sip. Children will use going to the bathroom as a constant excuse to get out of bed, and you need to be sure they don’t really need to go. This includes drinking in the middle of the night (a really bad habit causing unnecessary waking).
- Calm, relaxing activities in the hour before bed. Children’s days can be almost as overstimulating and stressful as ours (noisy chaotic school day, homework, after school activities, etc.). It is important they have time to unwind without fast moving video games or T.V. before bed. Coloring or reading a book while listening to soothing music is ideal. Even better, a quiet family game or puzzle. If you must watch T.V., make sure it is something slow and not scary or suspenseful.
- Use a camera monitor. This worked wonders for my kids. If they know you are watching them, they will not be tempted to sneak out of bed for a toy or do acrobats in bed. You can insist they lay still, and tell them you will be watching. Of course, this is only recommended for young children as it could be humiliating for an older child.
- Limit and then eliminate nighttime feeding as soon as possible in babies and toddlers. There are a lot of opinions about how old a baby should be before they sleep through the night, and some smaller children are not ready as soon. However, this is an important step in teaching good sleep habits and patterns and the longer you wait, the harder it will be (and the more tired you will be) …(ask me how I know). Don’t worry about if they are getting enough to eat. Children will almost immediately start eating more during the day to compensate for what they are not getting at night, and this is what you want. Remember not to night wean too soon if you are breast feeding because it will affect your milk supply. It is not uncommon to nurse at night for at least three months.
- Be firm and consistent. If you let your child get out of bed once (to go to the bathroom, get a drink, or tell you something), rest assured he will try it again the next night. This often becomes a bigger problem when the child was recently ill and more soothing and nurturing was needed. After their health is regained, they usually have already developed bad habits. This is no big deal, though, and after some reminding of the rules, everything will be back to normal.
- Make sure they take you seriously. If you tell them they can’t get up to take a drink, and then you give in, they will never forget it. There has to be a consequence (whatever you decide that will be). Oh, and by the way, you must decide what the consequence will be before you even put them to bed so you can act quickly at the first disobedience. Of course, getting angry or reacting in frustration is not an option. It will quickly turn into a habit (because now you have given them some power) and make bedtime a nightly bad experience for you both. Everything must be done firmly, but in love.
- For young children, try not to pick them up unless it is absolutely necessary (which of course, it sometimes is). Most of the time though, a gentle rub on the back should provide enough assurance that you still love them and are there, but you are still not giving in and letting them be in control. Children are so smart (even babies). If they realize that a certain behavior (like crying) will get you to pick them up, rock them, sing to them, etc, you can bet they will do it (with increasing duration every night). Of course, sometimes these things are wonderful, even for us. Just make sure you are the one deciding when it is going to happen and not them.
- Last, but not least, always let your kids know what you expect of them and what will happen if they do or don’t meet those expectations. Make a plan and then sit down with them and fill them in. For example, you can tell them , “when the clock says such and such time, you will do these five things (including, for example, pick up toys, brush teeth, put on jammies, go to the bathroom, etc.), and then I will tuck you in and you can say your prayers. If you are not finished at a certain time (pick an exact time here) without any complaining or trouble, tomorrow we will start your bedtime routine ten minutes earlier.” Make sure your kids know they are not allowed to get back up or call you. They must be asleep within a certain amount of minutes and not get up at night to prevent negative consequences. Of course, they can’t always help it if it takes them a few minutes longer to fall asleep, but the important thing is that they are being still and good and trying to go to sleep (and as parents, that’s really what we want). If they are really good, you might reward them with an additional 10 min. of awake time the next night.
Good luck! And remember to post your comments, questions and experiences for other readers. We all want to know what worked best for you.