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Turning "Dread Time" Into a Peaceful Bedtime

on Mon, 01/27/2014 - 05:00

Do you feel anxiety over the impending nightly grind of bedtime? It seems for some children they were born soldiers ready to fight the battle of resisting going to bed. Many parents feel frustrated and hopeless, and start believing they will be subjected to these nightly battles for years to come. It doesn’t have to be this way. Children will change their behavior once parents provide structure and appropriate limits. It will take some time, but with persistence you can end this war and maintain peace when putting your child to bed. Here are five tips:

1. Put your child to bed at the appropriate bedtime:

We all have a “sleep window” that is set by our internal body clock. This sleep window is the most opportune time for us to fall asleep. When you put your child to bed after this window, he or she gets an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone). This makes it harder for your child to settle down and fall asleep. That shot of cortisol also provides a second wind giving your child plenty of ammunition to battle with you when bedtime comes around. Individual needs vary, but an appropriate bedtime for most children lies between 7 – 8 pm until about the age of 5. This link can also be used as a reference to help find your child’s ideal bedtime: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children

2. Keep a bedtime routine short and sweet:

Bedtime routines are soothing and provide that last bit of connection with parents before lights out. Children often want to stretch the routine out to keep you with them longer. Keep the routine simple and concise with low stimulation; and keep it targeted toward your child’s interest.  Bath, brush, books, and bed might suffice for most kids. Some families incorporate songs and prayers. Whatever your family prefers, avoid keeping it long. Multiple books, or many routine steps before bedtime can make the child more stimulated. Keep it short and sweet.

3. Leave enough time for your child to wind-down:

Adding to the concept of the short and sweet bedtime routine, avoid making it too short. It is important not to hurry your child through the routine. When children are rushed, they may feel they have to fight harder to get more time with you. Especially if you are starting to enforce an appropriate bedtime for the first time, it will help to leave some extra time to deal with the protesting. If you are present with your child without feeling rushed, your child will adopt that calmness and be less likely to become upset.

4. Use incentives and praise:

If your child has been battling bedtime for awhile, it helps to have incentives to motivate a change in behavior. Incentives do not always have to be material items. Some examples include: reading a “very special” book designated just for bedtime, watching a favorite show or video in the morning after a battle free night, putting favorite stickers on a chart for getting into bed and staying there, or getting a special breakfast. Praise each step that your child does well. For example, “I like how you put on your pajamas and got right into bed.” Children feel motivated when you are proud of their achievements.

5. Stay consistent:

This is by far the most important tip. Without consistency, none of the other tips will work. These are just some of the many excuses parents hear of why their children will not sleep. · “One more book.” · “I have to tell you something.” · “I’m not sleepy.” The verbal and physical response from parents has to be calm, even-toned, and with the message that it is now sleep time and these things can be discussed outside of bedtime. Parents have to give this consistent message many nights in a row before they can see some change. With consistency, your child will learn that bedtime is truly meant for preparing for sleep and not battle. For more specific tips and individualized methods for your child, please contact me.