Bedtime: Stop the Battles

Bedtime can be a hard time of day for families. After a full day with kids, it seems that when the bedtime battles begin, our patience can go out the window.

Here are some suggestions to help make getting your kids in bed, a little easier.

First, understand how much sleep your children should be getting each night.

three year old should be getting about 12 hours of sleep total, that includes naps.

Four year olds, 11 and 1/2 hours of sleep.

Five year olds, 11 hours of sleep.

Six and Seven year olds should still be getting about 11 hours of sleep.

Eight and Nine year olds, 10 hours

Ten year olds, still about 10 hours.

Thirteen year olds, 9 hours.

(Ferber, R. 2006)

Also consider that sleep breeds sleep. There is this misnomer that if you keep kids up so they are extra tired, they will sleep better and longer. Not necessarily the case. Haven’t you ever put your child to bed late and they don’t sleep in, instead they wake up at the same time they always do? Instead, recognize that the more your child sleeps, the more your child will sleep.

  • Set a bed time and STICK WITH IT. This is so important. Don’t let bed be whenever. Set a time that is best for your child and put them to bed at that time every night. The more lenient you are with bed time, the more bedtime battles.
  • If you are trying to establish a new bed time, maybe because you have been putting your child to bed too late and you are trying to change that, make the adjustment gradually. You can’t make bed time an hour earlier and expect children to automatically adjust. The best thing to do is over the course of a few weeks, move bed time up by 15 to 20 minutes each night until you have reached your desired bed time. This will allow your child’s body to adjust to the new time gradually. There will be less stress involved for you and your child.
  • ESTABLISH A BED TIME ROUTINE. I can’t say enough about this. First, start your bedtime routine at least 30 MINUTES BEFORE you want your children to be in bed. This might sound like a lot, but think about it. They need time to wind down just like we do. Rushing through brushing teeth and a story, only to throw them in bed and turn out the lights. Of course they are going to holler our name 20 times. They have not been allowed to do and say all that they need.

Establish a routine, a sequence in which you will accomplish the same bedtime tasks every night. In our house we put on our pajama’s and hang up our clothes; go to the bathroom, brush out teeth, read a book or two, spend a few minutes talking about the day and then we say prayers. Then with hugs and kisses we turn out the lights. We stick to the same order every night. If I suggest we do it any other way, my kids are the first to remind me that “we never brush our teeth before we put on our pajama’s.” By sticking to a routine, kids know what to expect, they also feel safe and secure because there is predictability. Kids like it when things are predictable. It brings comfort.

My husband loves this time of the day because it is his time to connect with our kids. He hears what they did at school, they tell him what they are excited and worried about. They wrestle and tease. There is great power in this time of day. Embrace the opportunities to connect with your children. (Believe me I know this is hard when all you can think about is all the things that you will “finally” be able to do now that your kids are in bed. But don’t rush it.)

  • Don’t threaten. When kids get out of bed, or drag their feet at bed time, try not to say things like “If you don’t get in bed right now, you can’t play tomorrow.” This will only make things worse. Instead, stick to a routine, give your kids lots of time to get ready for bed, and talk about the fun things that you will do, like “It’s time to read a book, do you want to pick one out?”. “Why don’t you tell me what you liked best about today and then we will turn out the lights.” These approaches will get you much better results.
  • Teach children to sleep in their own beds. I recognize that there are many opinions surrounding this. You have to do what is best for your family. I suggest putting children in their own beds and teaching them to sleep there. It is good for them, and for you and your spouse. If you have found yourself in this sticky situation and you are trying to get your toddlers to get back in their own beds, I suggest the firm/loving approach. “You need to sleep in your bed.” When children get out, with little to no words at all, return them to their beds. Be patient, breaking the habit will take time, but don’t give in, not even one night.
  • Don’t get 10 glasses of water. If you have put your little ones down for the night and they call you up for a drink, or because they want to “tell you something.” Only respond once. Explain that they can have one request and that is all. They will learn to use that request wisely and pretty soon, the requests will stop. Going up every time they call will fuel the fire and drag the process out for hours.

If as parents we can change the way we think about putting our kids to bed, it will really help with the bedtime battles. It can be a great time of day when we relax, connect, listen and teach. But, we have to be structured, and DILIGENT.

If bedtimes are already difficult in your family, remember that behavior can be modified. Don’t give up hope, be patient and don’t quit.



Heather Ann