Top 5 Ways to Get Young Kids to Cooperate at Bedtime

Our family has been plagued by the bedtime blues for as long as children have been in the picture.  None of our girls went to bed nicely as infants.  For two of them, the toddler years were pretty trying, too.  By the time our third daughter came along, Todd and I were pretty convinced we were going to conquer the bedtime monster.  We were so wrong.

Approximately one month ago, we finally achieved something fantastic in our home.  After over a decade of parenting, all of the kids in our family now have happy bedtimes.  In celebration of the freedom that comes with smoother sleep, I am sharing my five favorite bedtime techniques.

1. Have a simple routine.

The key word is simple.  At our house that’s teeth, potty, bath, story, and lights out.  We rarely deviate.  Bath is kept short and soaps are often lavender-scented.  We read a picture book (two if there’s time).  The books are always read in bed, snuggled under covers (to minimize procrastination and tantrums between the living room and bed).  Unless Todd or I have to be gone during bedtime, we both show up for story time.  After stories are read, hugs and kisses are doled out.  Then, it’s lights out.

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2. Buy (or make) a “sleepy light.”

One of the best discoveries I ever made on Google was the idea of sleepy light.  One of our children used to think that sleep was a totally optional activity.  Bedtime was unnecessary.  Wake up time was flexible.  Her inability to fall, and stay, asleep had a major impact on the entire family.  Sleepy light changed the game dramatically.

Sleepy light is essentially a nightlight that automatically goes on at bedtime and goes off when it’s time to wake up.  You can find really fancy ones in stores and online.  I didn’t really want to fork over the cash for a premade light, so we made our own.

We purchased a light timer at Target when Christmas decorations were deeply discounted for about two dollars.  We then found a fancy nightlight at Dollar Tree and plugged it in to the timer.  The light goes on minutes before our bedtime routine begins.  It goes off when it’s okay to get out of bed.

The daughter that struggled so much with bedtime?  Well, to the surprise of the entire family, she respects the light.  Even if she’s awake at a ridiculously early hour, she quietly stays tucked in bed until the light shuts off (most days).

Sleepy light.
Sleepy light.

3. Limit chocolate and other forms of caffeine.

I love chocolate.  Coffee too.  I felt a little like a troll when I began denying chocolate to my child because she had difficult bedtimes.  Friends and family were supportive of our choice, but I felt like we were constantly justifying our decision.

Research has shown, though, that chocolate (especially the dark variety) has enough caffeine in it to negatively affect small children’s sleep habits.  When we stopped serving chocolate, bedtime became much easier.  Our daughter was better able to calm down, lay still, and restfully fall asleep.

Only in the last few months have we begun incorporating chocolate back into the entire family’s diet.  We are still careful, though, about timing and portion control.  Brownies are not served as a bedtime snack and serving sizes are small.

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4. Create a soothing environment.

Kids are very in tune with their sensory needs.  If they see, smell, touch, and hear soothing stimuli, they are more likely to feel calm.

Install a lamp by which to read bedtime stories, rather than using harsh, overhead lighting.  Diffuse calming lavender essential oil into the air.  Utilize pillow cases with warm, fuzzy textures (think pillow pet fabric).  Have light-blocking shades to cover windows.  Consider finding a white noise machine.  Do whatever it takes to create a space that helps your child calm down, feel soothed, and become sleepy.

Diffused lavender oil.
Diffused lavender oil.

5. Reward positive behavior.

Every night, when our daughter with difficult bedtimes is ready to say goodnight, she knows that she gets to choose her reward for having an “excellent, fabulous, great job” bedtime.  Rather than scolding her for messing up or punishing her in the morning for goofing off and disobeying, we positively reinforce desirable behavior.

We don’t provide store-bought rewards, though.  Instead, we opt to give her more of our time.  If bedtime goes well, the chosen reward happens the following day.  Our daughter picks a game to play, a craft project to complete, a toy to share, or an experience to be had–together.  It’s a win-win for all of us.  She goes to sleep faster and better.  Todd and I aren’t having to argue, plead, and scold as often as before.  And we are all getting additional quality time together.

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Bedtime is hard for kids.  They are learning about the world around them and find it difficult to slow down and sleep.  In order to promote healthy development and save parental sanity, though, our littlest family members need to sleep well.  What techniques do you utilize to get through a successful bedtime?  Leave a comment and let me know!