How to Establish a Bedtime Routine for Your Children

It’s not unusual for a child to resist going to bed at the end of the day: he would rather stay up and continue to have fun! The easiest way to ensure your child goes to bed in a timely fashion is to have a bedtime routine. Allow sufficient time for a gradual approach to bedtime. Often, your child finds “turning off” just as hard as you do. First, slow down the pace and turn off the television, or lower the volume, and subdue the overall noise and activity level in the house. Then, give your child attention as he washes up or has a bath, puts on his paja­mas, brushes his hair and his teeth. Then, tuck him into bed along with his special animal or blanket, and read him a story, or poem, or talk quietly about the day’s activities. Then, say good night, preferably with a special ritual cuddle and rhyme, or lullaby. Then, turn off the light, shut the door, and leave, say­ing “It’s time for you to sleep now. I love you. Good night, and sweet dreams.” You can put your child to bed in about twenty minutes, although you may enjoy more time with your child.

Of course, genuine reasons may underlie your child’s reluc­tance to retire for the evening— insecurity, fear of the dark (he may be more secure with a night-light), sickness, hunger, thirst. But once you have ruled out these possibilities, you can reason­ably assume that problems in getting your child to bed stem from his simple desire to be with you.

Now is the time for consistency, especially with a child around two or three years of age. First, talk to him about the importance of bedtime, about his need for sleep, and about the fact that you need your time, too. The best time for such a talk is probably any time other than bedtime. Remind your child that everyone in the family has set times for going to bed. Everybody in the family needs sleep because sleep helps the body stay healthy. After you go through your child’s full bed­time routine, if he ignores you and refuses to stay in bed, repeat your final good night tuck-in ritual, and insist that he remains in his bedroom. Don’t let him get up to be with you, no matter how hard he tries to persuade you. Should he leave his bed­room, take him back. This strategy will work after a few weeks, as long as you are consistent.

A child aged four or five may regularly resist bedtime because he feels he is old enough to stay up later, or because his older brother or sister has a later bedtime. Rather than blindly insisting that he adheres to the time you have set, ask your child what time he thinks he should go to bed. Then reach a compro­mise. Even if you concede only an extra fifteen minutes, this will make your child feel he has been involved in the decision­making process and, as a result, he’ll be more inclined to keep his agreement.

If you and your child still become locked in bedtime battles, try an alternative method. Suppose you want him to go to bed at eight o’clock, but he struggles against this for hours and doesn’t actually fall asleep until ten. Since you know that your child’s going to stay up late anyway, tell him that for the next three nights he doesn’t have to go to bed until 10:30 (i.e., half an hour after the time he is usually asleep). He will almost certainly cooperate with you now because you have removed the source of conflict between you and him. Praise your child for going to bed at the agreed time without a struggle. After three nights, bring his bedtime forward by fifteen minutes, and repeat this process every three nights, each time making bed­time fifteen minutes earlier. Within six weeks, you may find your child goes to bed at eight o’clock, without a struggle.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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