Written by Jan Castagnaro
The shrilling cries of a child anguished by having to go to bed, seems to be a common event, which unfolds nightly in many households. Between the tantrums, tears, and overall rebellion that can and does occur, parents do not feel comforted by knowing they are part of a club of sorts, but rather they feel the build up of stress and frustration from this nightly ritual. Let’s face it, after a long day, who wants to deal with or has the patience to deal with their child’s resistance to go to bed? If the screaming and crying is not enough, then repetitious getting out of bed and you putting them back in bed can really wear you down.
However, that dreaded time of day could become a more pleasurable time of day, if you are willing to sit down and establish a workable bedtime routine. Think about it, when your child was a newborn, you probably had a bedtime routine, but as he or she got older, you may have gotten off track with the routine. It does not matter; because today is a new day, and today is the day, you are going to reestablish a bedtime routine for you and your child.
For children, bedtime is reassurance time. They need to feel a calm and comforting environment. So, first, you should decide a set time for bedtime. You do not want them to go to bed to close to the time that they have finished dinner, nor do you want them to go to bed to close to the time you need to go to bed. Now that you have set a time for bed, you can establish pre-bedtime routines. The goal is to create a calm atmosphere, which includes quality time spent with parent(s). By doing this, you will also begin to encourage healthy sleeping habits for your child.
Remember, this reestablishment of a bedtime routine is not going to happen overnight. Your child may have developed other habits, which have helped them to defy sleep time, such as the ever-popular attention getter—getting out of bed a dozen times or more before dozing. Alternatively, maybe, they screamed for an hour. Did you get into the habit of lying down with them until they fell asleep? Therefore, you see, this may take a little time before you see results, but you have to commit to making the changes.
The pre-bedtime plan of action or routine can and should be a fun time, yet not overly stimulating time; because the last thing you want to do is to over stimulate a child’s mind before bed. The following are some simple suggestions for pre-bedtime activities:
- When the weather is allowing, you can take a nice walk, or go for an early evening bike ride.
- Bake cookies together.
- Do an easy craft.
- Snuggle and watch a family oriented television show.
- Listen to music together (kid sing-a-long).
- Play a board game.
- End of day healthy snack time.
You may want to vary the activities through the week, and allow your child to be part of planning. Have them help you make a poster with the new bedtime schedule plotted and planned out, and communicate with your child about the fun new changes that will take place. By including them in the planning, you will be encouraging this to become a positive experience they can feel good about, which may help to facilitate the changes with ease instead of a battle.
After the pre-bedtime activity, it is time to help your child get comfortable and ready for bed. This should include, bath time or washing up time, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and taking care of toilet needs. Use this time to talk to your child about good hygiene habits. Help them straighten up their bedroom, because if the room is tidy, there will be less distraction and temptations to hinder them from wanting to go to bed. Make sure you compliment them and give them the positive communication with verbal praise and hugs. This will give your child that constant flow of reassurance that sometimes causes them to sort out attention at bedtime, but in a negative way through tantrums, or just plain not wanting to go to bed.
Now that your child is in bed, it is always nice to end the day by reading a good book or two. Set a limit on how many books you will read at bedtime, or you might find your child using this as a tool to work against you. Encourage your child to choose the book, and learn which authors your child seems to gravitate toward, so you can fill their library with a steady flow of works by their favorite authors. Another good tip is to read books about bedtime. While reading to your child, ask them questions about what you have read. This will help get their mind off the fact that it is bedtime, and it instead becomes an enjoyable time they get to spend with you.
It is time to give the hugs and kisses, before turning out the light. Tell your child how much fun you had with them that evening, and how you look forward to doing this every night. Again, keep bedtime a positive time, a calm time. If your child sees you relaxed, they will feel more relaxed, but if they feel you are anxious, they will respond to your anxiety.
Okay, sure, this sounds like a nice warm and fuzzy plan, but you are anticipating the worse. It is not going to happen overnight, and you will have to work at this. Be consistent, be patient, and be aware of the ways your child attempts to manipulate bedtime. Then head off the problems. You have to anticipate the excuses that your child sometimes uses to prolong bedtime. Here are some common excuses and tips to deal with them:
- I am Thirsty. This is why you need to have a snack time during your pre-bedtime activity time. You can also encourage a drink right before bath time or right after bath time, but you do not want to encourage a drink to close to bedtime, because that will lead to, “ I have to go to the bathroom.” If you truly cannot discourage this habit, allow your child to have a small glass of water at the bedside, but remind them to only take small sips.
- I am hungry. Again, snack time during pre-bedtime activity should help to eliminate the hunger urge.
- I have to go to the bathroom. Make sure you remind your child to use the toilet after bath time, and again before you tuck them into bed.
- I have to blow my nose. Buy the small individual packages of tissue and let your child keep a pack on their nightstand or under their pillow. Then you can encourage them to be independent and do this task by themselves. Of course, you will have to get a small trashcan to put near their bed or you will have them getting up to throw out the tissues every five minutes.
- I did not say goodnight to the dog, or cat, or fish. If you know that your child must say goodnight to everything in the house, you can incorporate this into getting ready for bedtime. Have them go around to everything they routinely like to say goodnight too, and let them get it out of their system then.
This is going to take some time for your child to get use too. They have controlled bedtime, and now you are taking back the control. You have to be patient and consistent, and you have to tell your child that this is how it is going to be, while you encourage them to be part of making the bedtime routine a very special time between you and them. The tantrums may linger for a while, but stay calm and do not negotiate with your child. They need to see that you are in control, and that you are serious about the new routine. If your child still keeps getting out of bed, do not show your frustration or anger. Instead, walk them back to their room, tell them it is bedtime, and put them back to bed. The next time they get out of bed, just walk them to their room and put them to bed without saying anything to them. You may have to do this several times, but they will get the hint that they are no longer in control of bedtime.
Again, be patient, be positive, be calm, and enjoy the quality time you are spending with your child during the bedtime routine.