If you’re having trouble with your kids at bedtime, a good first step is to stop thinking of it as a battle and be open to a different approach.
Here are some tips.
1. Assess Your Approach
When it comes to bedtime, where did you get the advice that you implement in your home? Or maybe you’re doing what your spouse thinks you should do, or your mom, or your in-laws…the point is, why are you approaching bedtime the way you do? If it’s not working, then it’s time to rethink your approach.
Maybe you’ve been told that children have to be in bed by a certain time and have to fall asleep by themselves in less than 20 minutes. Try breaking away from the expectations of others and instead think about your individual child’s temperament and your own. Keeping updated on the latest research findings on sleep will also help you make better decisions when navigating bedtime.
Now that you’re comfortable with taking an approach that’s customized for you and your kids, consider some of these ideas for incentives.
For example, if your kids are in bed by the bedtime that you’ve chosen for them, they earn tickets or play dollars. Other behaviors can be reinforced this way, too – staying quiet after lights are out, not getting out of bed until a certain time, etc. can all be reinforced with incentives.
Behavior that you don’t welcome, such as tantrums or jumping out of bed after lights out, can “cost” tickets or play money. Make sure that the amount of tickets or dollars earned is reasonable for your kids’ ages (for example, it won’t mean much if it takes a month for a preschooler to earn enough tickets for a treat – they have a hard time thinking that far ahead).
Try rewarding good nighttime behavior with some extra TV time or play time. This may work better on children past preschool as preschoolers usually need more immediate rewards.
3. Firm Limits
It can be challenging when your kids try to get that one last thing in before going to bed, e.g. “Just one more cartoon? Just one more story?” Make sure you set firm limits and don’t overindulge them; this also means that you won’t have to try and figure out if you should give in or not with each request. If the request is not within the limits, then the request isn’t granted.
A cornerstone of parenting is the belief that children really do thrive with routine. Routines are different from schedules; they’re more individualized. Having a bedtime routine can help a lot and facilitate the falling asleep process. You can even make a big poster or chart with all of the bedtime activities listed in order for your child to look at. Routines help children feel secure and will hopefully make them less likely to push the limits as they try to figure out if things are going to be the same or not.