How to take the struggle out of bedtime
Bedtime, that time of day that tests every inch of our patience, as we embrace (or fight) the pure struggle to get our tiny people fed, bathed, changed and asleep without someone losing their cool. And by someone, I mean us. The parents. No wonder this time of day is often referred to as “suicide hour”. It can be rough.
Why is it that so many children refuse bedtime? Why do our children turn into circus stars, jumping and swinging all over the place the minute we announce bath time or bedtime?
There is a whole psychology behind the way children’s brains react when given a command (which is for another blog, another day), so sometimes, the way in which we bring them to the point of bedtime and bathtime is crucial in maintaining a positive flow throughout “suicide hour”.
Here are some suggestions that can help take the struggle out of bedtime.
Routines rule. While not all parents agree with this point, there are millions of parents who see the benefits routines bring into their lives. Children who have routines in place come to learn what to expect, which helps them feel like they have order and control in their lives. They feel secure, knowing what is to come, plus routines help children build healthy daily habits.
Find a bedtime routine that works for your family, and then stick to it. This will already eliminate a lot of stress and chaos when it comes to bedtime.
Start the build up to bedtime steadily. Give your children enough friendly reminders that it’s almost bedtime. This will allow your child time to understand the next steps that are required of him/her. Offer your child one more activity, TV show episode or game before you move onto the bedtime routine. This will help them understand that after this activity it’s time for bed.
Make the idea of bath time and bedtime fun by keeping the positive energy flowing. How can we do this? By using positive words. Instead of saying “Get in the bath NOW!” or “How many times do I have to tell you to get into your bed?” Rather say “Let’s go see if mom put bubbles in the bath tonight!”” and “Let’s see who can be the first one in the bed!” This makes the act of getting to the bath or bed fun and exciting, which is half of the struggle sorted.
If you find that your child is resisting the task at hand, make the effort to change the energy you’re giving. Try to maintain a bedtime routine that runs smoothly and calmly with a positive energy.
One-on-one time at bedtime is worth it. Children crave connections. They need to feel safe and loved by their parents, and a crucial time for this to take place is at bedtime. Before a child falls asleep, they are vulnerable. They are giving into their sleepy conscience and they need to feel loved and secure to do this. If you are able to give your children one-on-one time at bedtime, you’ll likely notice a decrease in their willingness to fight bedtime because often when children resist something, they are craving attention or connection.
Acknowledge their fears and deal with them. Show them that they are safe by eliminating all the possibilities of monsters under the bed or bad dreams by checking the room and even creating a ‘special spray’ that keeps them away. This will show your child that you are validating their fear and dealing with it so that they won’t have to.
Find ways to help your kids relax. There are many ways to help your child unwind before bedtime. If you have a steady, calming routine in place from birth, it is likely that this will be your child’s way of unwinding and expecting bedtime. However, if you have yet to implement a routine, or if your routine is a little less calm then you might want it to be, look into other options, such as:
- Swinging on a swing - vestibular stimulation is very powerful as a tool for self-soothing in children and adults. Linear movements, such as swinging or rocking, can help children who find it difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Smells - associating bedtime with comforting, calming smells such as lavender, cedarwood or vanilla can help the brain release melatonin.
- Warm bath and a massage - this physically helps the body and the muscles relax. The touch of a massage can also help a child feel grounded and safe, which is what we need before we fall asleep. If your child likes physical touch, a massage is a great way to help them unwind.
- Sleep associations - you can choose to play music or sounds that help your children understand that this is bedtime. Playing music or sounds also helps orientate your children if they wake up in the middle of the night and feel scared or alone. The sounds will help remind them that it’s sleeping time and that they can go back to sleep.
- Snuggly toys, comfort blankets and comfortable pyjamas - make sure to incorporate feeling into bedtime. Let your children hug soft toys or use a comfort blanket if it helps them relax and transition into a sleepy state.
Stay calm, if you’re shouting or huffing and puffing your child is not going to feel relaxed. Imagine you are tired, and someone a lot bigger than you is shouting at you to “close your eyes and go to sleep!” Your brain is going to signal an alert that this is frightening, rather than a sleepytime alert.
Your energy impacts the way your children fall asleep.
Be loving, but firm. Bedtime is not a negotiable time. You are the parent, you need to be in control in a loving way. If your child is going off the edge, reign him/her back in with a calm, steady voice and let them know that if they won’t listen to you or get into bed you will be leaving the room without them. Make sure to be true to your word, so that your child learns that you mean what you say.
During bedtime, stay with your child until you feel your child is in a state of complete calm, and then leave the room. Don’t leave your child to fall asleep alone if he or she is upset or crying as this can lead to bedtime anxiety. Decide where the best place is for you to be and then stay there (lying in the bed, sitting on the bed, sitting on a chair, standing at the door, standing outside the door etc). This has to work for you, but it has to show your child that they are safe, loved and that they can indeed close their eyes and safely fall asleep.
Remember, parenting is not about controlling your children but rather about understanding your child’s feelings which result in their behaviours. No child wants to be giving their parents a hard time just for fun. Always try to understand the feelings behind the actions or resistance. And then pick your way forward. The moment you embrace their fears, wishes and resistance is the moment they will cease to fight you.
Here’s to hoping for sweet dreams.
Written By: Gabriela Demby
Gabriela is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience in the creative industry. She is a mother of two beautiful girls and is a mommy blogger. She uses her platform to shed light on the realities of parenthood with raw honesty, a little humour and some recipes too. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Instagram @momsyandmee