If you are having trouble with your kids at bedtime, maybe a good first step would be to stop thinking of it as a battle. Then, you can be open to some tips and ideas that may help get things peaceful. Here are some suggestions.
Assess Your Approach
When it comes to bedtime, are you trying to follow advice you read about? Or maybe you are 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 might be time to rethink things.
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 out of the expectations of others and instead, think about your individual child’s temperament and your own. Sometimes, it’s just too hard to meet other’s expectations.
Now that you are comfortable with taking an approach that’s customized for you and your kids, consider some of these ideas for incentives.
Let your kids earn tickets or play money at bedtime. For example, if they are in bed by 8 o’clock (or whatever their bedtime is), they earn a certain number of 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 the tickets.
Behavior you don’t welcome, such as tantrums or jumping out of bed after lights out, could “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 night-time behavior with some extra TV time or play time. This may work better on children past preschool – preschoolers usually need more immediate rewards.
One of the things that can be challenging is when your kids try to get that one last thing in before going to bed – “Just one more cartoon? Just one more story?” Make sure you and your kids have firm limits established already, so you don’t have to try to 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.
It is said that children really do thrive on routine. Routines are different from schedules; they are more individualized. Having a bedtime routine can help a lot. You can even make a big poster or chart with all 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.