Bedtime battles: How to come out on the winning end

5 years ago

On most nights, bath time starts at 6:30, followed by pajamas and reading, so that by 7pm, our three-year-old is happily tucked into his twin bed and dozing the night away. It wasn’t always like that. From screaming fits to not staying in his bed, my husband and I have had our share of bedtime battles. Take a look at a few we’ve gone through and the solutions that helped us through them:

Bedtime battle #1: Your child resists going to bed

Whether your kid sulks, throws a full-on fit or tries to delay the unwanted bedtime, your child is making it clear that she doesn’t want to go to bed. When kids and parents clash, it’s easy for adults to lose our temper instead of remaining calm and proactive. Consider these tactics instead:

  • Establish routines.I’m a huge fan of routines, considering that they give kids a predictability when they may not always understand their world. Ideally, your days consist of regular activities roughly in the same order around the same time of day. Then, decide how long you want your bedtime routine to last, and what’s enjoyable for everyone. Some activities that may work: bath time, putting on pajamas, reading books, saying good night to things in the room, hugs and kisses and singing songs.
  • Give a heads up. Your kid may very well be so focused on a project or having fun playing with toys and other family members, that to spring bedtime on him out of the blue doesn’t help with the transition. Instead, give him a heads up a few minutes before you plan to start. In our home, I tell my three-year-old that I’m going to run his bath water in 10 minutes, so he can continue playing in the meantime until the 10 minutes have passed. Similarly, explain the concept of time, even if he may not understand it completely. He’ll come to understand that 7pm is bedtime, even if he can’t tell time just yet.
  • Make bedtime fun. You know your kids best, so play to their interest. Whether it’s snuggling with a beloved toy in their room, reading a new book, splashing in the tub or, in my son’s case, applying lotion to his tummy, find an activity that piques your child’s current interest that you can include in the bedtime routine.
  • Stay consistent. Flexibility is fine, but generally you’ll want to stay consistent not just with routines but with what you allow. If kids are allowed to put bedtime off by an hour, hearing you claim that you mean it this time tends to fall on disbelieving ears. Instead, aim to stay consistent with bedtimes and what you will and won’t allow.
Bedtime battle #2: Your child is in bed but takes a while to fall asleep

Other times, your child may oblige you in going to bed, only to stay awake for an hour or more. My son has done this, where we’ll hear him singing or talking in bed for up to two hours before finally conking out. To make matters worse, kids sometimes don’t (or can’t) make up for the lack of sleep and still wake up at the same time, cutting their total sleep time pretty short. To balance your child’s sleep come bedtime, try the following:

  • Adjust your child’s bedtime and nap times. Kids differ in how much sleep they need; for instance, three-year-olds can sleep anywhere from 10 to 14 hours total in a day. If you find that your child seems to consistently do fine on 11 hours of sleep but he’s in bed for 12, try putting him down later or waking him up earlier by an hour. Similarly, if your child takes a nap, try to make sure that she’s awake at least four hours from the time she wakes up from the last nap until bedtime. Otherwise, she just may not be sleepy enough.
  • Tire your child out. According to my son’s pediatrician, kids his age (three-year-olds) shouldn’t remain sedentary for longer than an hour at a time, excepting sleep. I’ve noticed that my son tends to sleep better when he’s had a bit of physical activity for the day. Go for a walk around the block, play chase at home, or throw balls; these activities may help energize your child’s body enough so that come bedtime, he’ll naturally feel inclined to sleep.
Bedtime battle #3: Your child won’t stay in his bed or room

Whether your child is transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed, from co-sleeping to a room of his own, or simply refuses to remain in bed, one of the worst bedtime battles often involves convincing children to stay put when lights are out. Below are a few tips to help your child stay in bed or, at the least, in her room:

  • Consider any fears your child may have. Before assuming that she’s just out to cause trouble, assess whether your child could be harboring any fears that prevent her from staying in bed. For my son, I noticed that he was afraid of the dark, especially with curtains blocking any light whatsoever. The solution? A night light. Other fears could include shadows, scary thoughts, or any new experiences he’s still sorting out.
  • Place baby gates or a child-proof knob on the inside of your child’s door. Just as a crib contained your child within a safe space, so too can baby gates or a child-proof knob. If your child reacts frantically, explain that it’s bedtime and that you’re right in the next room. Check in every 15 minutes or so to reassure her, if doing so doesn’t elicit even more of a reaction. Don’t be surprised if you find her asleep on the floor, by the door or anywhere else but the bed.
  • Continue checking in if your child wakes up in the middle of the night. It’s likely that, rather than falling back to sleep, your child will instead cry for you when she wakes up at night. Reassure her once again that it’s sleep time, that she’s doing so well trying to sleep in her bed, and that you’re right in the next room.
  • Sleep on the floor in your child’s room. Sometimes it’s easier on everyone if you sleep in your child’s room for a few nights, gradually lessening your presence as she eases into her new bed or room. You can try sleeping there the whole night at first, then perhaps leaving in the middle of the night to go back to your room the next, to then staying with her until she falls asleep, until finally you’re able to kiss good night and leave her to herself.

Above all, be patient. When my son was transitioning into his toddler bed, there was no magical night where everything fell into place. My husband and I tried several tactics over the course of a week or two, with each day improving on the one before. I felt so helpless during the process, thinking that we’re doomed to sleep deprivation once again. Yet here we are, with my son eagerly climbing into bed and sleeping straight through the night.

There are of course nights when he wakes up—just last night he woke up crying from a nightmare, and my husband reassured him back to calmness. Other times, he’ll wake up because he can’t find his stuffed animal or because he had pooped. In general though, he has a happy disposition when it comes to sleep and gives us a blissful 12-hour stretch of sleep most nights.

How about you? What are/were some of your toughest bedtime battles? What tips worked best?

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