Make Your Kid's Bedtime Battle-Free
1. Make sure bedtime is early enough. Parents often say that their child doesn't seem tired at betime so they allow them to stay up longer. Big mistake. Once a child is overtired, a stress hormone called cortisol is released, which makes it hard to settle in and causes a child to wake up more throughout the night, and wake up too early in the morning. Moving bedtime up by 30 minutes can get your child to bed before they become overtired.
2. Keep your child's bedtime consistent. Don't stray too far from what you establish as the appropriate bedtime. Consistency is crucial. That means that bedtime stays the same even on the weekends and during the summer when the days are longer. When your child does end up staying up later than usual, try to get them up at about the same time the next morning. It's important not to let your child sleep in sometimes and not others, so they don't start shifting their sleep pattern.
3. Let your child wind down. Just as adults can't go right from busyness and activity of the day into sleep, neither can your child. They need a transition to relax and settle down. There should be no vigorous activity between a half hour and an hour before bedtime.
4. Establish a routine for your child's bedtime. Follow the 4 B's: bath, brushing teeth, books and bed. The routine should start somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour before you want your child to be asleep. It's important that your child's routine be predictable. Do the same things in the same order. Over time, just doing the routine will make your child sleepy.
5. Offer lots of choices for bedtime. Make them simple yes/no choices, though, not open-ended choices that will frustrate both of you. The options are endless. Would you like to skip or walk to the bath? Would you like to wear the green pajamas or the blue ones? Do you want to read 2 or 3 stories? Would you like 3 or 5 kisses?
6. Take charge and set limits. Children want us to run the show. A developmental task of a toddler (and a teenager!) is to push and test. Our job is to set healthy boundaries for them. Knowing that someone is in charge actually makes your child feel more comfortable. They feel unsafe when we don't set limits.
7. Provide a transitional object. Bedtime means separation and that can be hard on a child. Help them cope by finding something that can substitute as you when you leave the room. Take your child to the store and pick out mommy bear (or whatever stuffed animal they want). Have mommy bear help make dinner, take a bath, and read books. Then at bedtime mommy bear will stay with them. It gives a child a piece of you to help cuddle up with when you're not there.
8. Create a comfortable sleep environment. Particularly for older kids, keep distractions out of the bedroom. Electronics like TVs, video games, cell phones and computers are sleep distractions and be be impossible to control once you close the bedroom door.
9.Teach your child to fall asleep on their own. Every parent knows that this is the hardest job of all. But most sleeping problems stem from this inability. Children associate certain conditions with being asleep. During lighter sleep phases, they will subconsciously check their environment for the same conditions they went to sleep with in the first place. If you were there when they fell asleep, they think you need to be there when they wake.
The reason children wake up is not the issue. The issue is learning to fall back asleep on their own. If children learn to fall asleep on their own, then they'll be able to put themselves to sleep that way when they wake up in the middle of the night.
10. Be consistent. When dealing with a sleep problem, many parents will do the same thing for several nights trying to create consistency, and then fall off. Sometimes, something comes up. Sometimes, the child has just been crying one minute too long and a parent just gives in and gives up. The consistency in your response is key. It hardly ever happens that it takes one night of adjusting to change. But the consistency in your response will get your result more quickly. It is critical to minimizing your child's frustration and getting through the process quickly.
It doesn't matter how far you've gotten off track. Just be consistent. Once you've set the boundary, they will relax into it.