From the time my kids were babies, I started sleep training. It was never perfect, and it was never easy. But, it was absolutely worth it. When we would have friends over for dinner and my children’s bedtime rolled around, it was so refreshing to be able to put them to bed in less than 10 minutes with no crying, whining or crocodile tears.
Sometimes people would say to me, “Oh, you’re so lucky. Your kids just go to bed. You got an easy one.” Um, no, not easy. My husband and I worked for an stress-free bedtime.
The reality is, with a little effort and some clear boundary lines, bedtime can be a smooth and even happy (no, really it’s true) event.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I heard regarding bedtime was that it really is a struggle between what your child wants and what they need. They want more time to play, more food, more of whatever, but what they need is to connect with you and to get some good quality sleep.
I think of how grumpy and miserable I am when I only get a few hours – I can only imagine the havoc sleep deprivation wreaks on our children.
Here are a few solutions that helped us conquer bedtime and come out winners:
I put my kids to bed early at 7:30 p.m. Granted, all three of my kids are younger than 10 years of age, but it’s still early. This surprises many other parents I know. However, kids need way more sleep than we realize. Check out this chart for a guide on how many zzz’s they actually need. By bumping up your child’s bedtime by 30 minutes, you are giving them more time to fall asleep and chances are, they need it.
Also, sleep begets sleep. This sounds counter-intuitive, but we all know what happens when a child becomes overly tired. We call it “the crazies” at my house. Often they have difficulty settling down once this happens. Beat them to the chase.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Nothing makes kids happier to march off to bed like a fun, simple, established bedtime. Ours includes a bath on some nights, brushing teeth, a bedtime story, prayers and lots of cuddles and kisses. The consistency of their bedtime and their routine really helps my kids resist the urge to “fight to stay up.” They get time to connect with us and they get some time to unwind – both of which make turning off the light a lot less terrible.
It’s a toddler’s job to test boundaries! Older kids will do the same if given the opportunity. But, it’s our job as parents to set the boundaries and stick to them. We all know kids thrive with some measure of structure and order (there’s always room for fun and spontaneity too). Bedtime is no different.
Establish the bedtime rules and clearly communicate them to your child. No getting out of bed except to go potty, no goofing around, no talking (if kids share a room). Whatever it is, let them know and then follow through on logical consequences if those rules are broken.
In our house, we have a reward chart, and my kids can earn stars for staying in bed and not being disruptive. Stars let them earn rewards, like a trip to the frozen yogurt store. Honestly, the chart helps my toddler, but my older kids have learned from early on to respect bedtime, and for them, it’s second nature – and isn’t that the goal?