The Bedtime Lowdown: How to Eliminate That Fit
One of the most critical times of day at our house is bedtime. It can also be a time of bargaining, rushing around, crying, and a variety of other excitement when excitement is the last thing you’re trying to have.
As a busy family with a disparity of ages, making sure that everyone has the rest that they need to ensure that the next day goes as smooth as possible is sometimes a challenge. As important as quality sleep is for adults, it is even more so for young children with their developing minds and bodies. Managing stress, their ability to focus, and controlling their tempers are just a few of the reasons that your child needs a good night’s rest.
There are no shortages of speed bumps along the way to bedtime however. When mom and dad get engrossed in the chores around the house or time just simply slips by unnoticed, your child’s bedtime window can come and go too quickly. The good news is that there are a number of things that you can try to not only ensure that you stay on track, but also make certain that your child gets to sleep soon after climbing into bed.
Keep Routines Consistent Kid’s do Best With Very Little Change
Being consistent at bedtime is a great way to get your child’s internal clock on a schedule. Their bodies adapt and thrive with routines, especially around bedtime. This often means that you’ll have a number of evening rituals as well, which all help children become accustomed to consistent routines.
You can use their favorite television shows, set a time to read stories together, bath and teeth brushing times, or any number of things that let your child know that bedtime is approaching. After a few weeks of sticking to nighttime habits, their bodies will begin to recognize when it’s getting close to bedtime.
The important thing to remember is that you as the parent are the one responsible for keeping the train on the tracks. Don’t wait until it is time to tuck your child in to realize that they haven’t brushed their teeth or had their snack. This takes you being the conductor each step of the way to work properly. Don’t be surprised if you skip some aspect of your nighttime routine down the road and your child becomes insistent on doing that task before they are willing to get in bed. Children respond surprisingly well to structure and routine, often times they crave it more than their parents do.
Wind Down the Day ahead of Time
Much like setting bedtime routines, winding down is a great way to prepare your child’s mind and body for rest. Abruptly going from playing games or running around the house to lying in bed can be difficult for children to adjust to. If your child goes to bed at 8 o’clock, you can try brushing their teeth at 7 o’clock, getting into their pajamas and reading a story at 7:30, and then it’s lights out at 8:00.
This gradual decrease in activity ensures that their minds are not over-stimulated when they climb under the covers. Like most of the other bedtime tactics, this one involves you as the parent setting the pace and tone. Most kids can play for about 23 hours a day it seems, so letting them know when it’s time to relax and then getting them to do it is crucial if your goal is a quality night of rest for your little one.
Bedtime can be frightening for some children. Going from sitting with the family and watching television to lying in a darkened room alone can be difficult for them to process. You can alleviate some of that transitional stress with things such as teddy bears or other stuffed toys. This will give them a sense of security as they drift off to sleep. You can even do little things like kiss the animal or doll for them so that they have a way of being close to you even when you are not in the room.
Having family photos by the bed is another way to help your child cope with the separation. It’s important to remember that a child’s fears and apprehension can be based on their proximity to you, and at many times it can be irrational. By giving them a way of experiencing the same comfort that they normally find when they are with you, you can help them transition to being alone.
Just be sure to avoid the pitfall of over-indulging their fears. Children can use guilt like a weapon if it suits their needs, so you want to make sure that you are addressing real concerns with real solutions. Giving your child an iPhone to call you when they have a bad dream is not a great way to enhance independence, nor is it a safe idea to put an electronic in bed with your child.
Create a Good Sleep Environment
Bedtime should only be about bedtime. Other than reading a book together or saying prayers, the less you do in bed, the better. This also goes for ambient noises throughout the house as well. You may have older children with different bedtimes, (like we do), or perhaps after the kids are in bed it is your own time to relax and do what you want; but keeping noises down will allow your child to fall asleep without a lot of distractions. Do you have outside lights that shine into your child’s room?
Pick up some black-out curtains to keep street lights or car headlights from shinning into the room and disrupting their sleep patterns. If there is a lot of outside noise that you can’t control, pick up some ambient noise machines that can play white noise or soothing nature sounds to create a relaxing tone at bedtime. The more your child sees and hears while they lay in bed, the more active their minds are going to be.
Anticipate Resistance Odds are You Will Run Into it
At first your child is probably not going to like bed time too much. Whether it’s being excluded from the rest of the family or being left alone in their room, you need to anticipate some degree of resistance. Kids have a way of pulling out quite a number of tricks when it comes to stalling for bedtime. They will use guilt, fear, and a whole host of things that they “need” to get done in order to prolong staying up. However, setting boundaries is a big part of parenting, and sticking to your guns when it comes to bedtime will establish healthy limits.
The truth is, kids thrive on having limits; even if they seem to test them from time to time. Remind your child as to why you are so insistent on them getting to bed at the specified time or why a good night’s sleep is so important for them. Oftentimes parents feel that there is no need to explain things to their children, adopting rather a policy of “because I said so”. Once your child understands the logic behind it, they may realize that any idea of future argument is futile.
Reassure Your Kid what They Are Feeling is Real
Letting your child know that it’s common to feel the way that they do can give them some reassurance when it’s time for bed. By letting your little one know that you’re close by, or that you will check on them, they can feel more secure in their beds. It’s common for children to be afraid at night.
Let them express these concerns to you without becoming complicit in their fears. Is your child afraid of monsters under the bed? Don’t create some monster repellant to spray around the room or under the bed; this will only create the idea that you also believe in monsters as well, and will give credibility to their fears.
Instead, explore these fears during the daytime and show them that there is nothing to be afraid of. Make showing them all the spots of their room that seem scary after the lights go out a part of your pre-bedtime habits. Showing your child that they are perfectly safe in their bedroom is key to keeping them in their bed at night.
Avoid the Over Stimulating Electronics
Many electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, and televisions give off stimulating “blue light” that keeps your child’s brain up on high when you need it to be winding down. You should try and switch off these types of devises at least 30 minutes before it’s time for bed in order to allow their brains a chance to mellow out from the entertainment.
Certain television shows can have the same stimulating effects to young kids, so be sure to keep the television time to well before they get ready to climb under the covers. Instead, read a bedtime story with them or just talk about your day together. These types of soothing activities help calm and relax their minds and prepare them for sleep.
Bounce Back from Setbacks
Vacations, trips, illnesses and a variety of other things can disrupt the routines of your household. It’s important to try and maintain those bedtime patterns whenever possible, but when you can’t, you have to get back to them as quickly as possible. The faster you bounce back from changes to their routine, the more likely it is that they will get back into the rhythm of their sleep patterns.
It is also a good idea to explain why their normal bedtime routine has changed in the first place. If they are staying up late because you have family visiting town for instance, let them know that an exception is being made for a limited time but once your visitor’s leave they will go back to their regular bedtime.
Try and limit the degree of exception as well. If my son normally is in bed at 8 o’clock, but an exception is being made, we usually make that exception a 9 o’clock bedtime. That way you’ll have less resistance when you get them into bed when it’s time to get back on schedule. The goal is to create a routine even when you have to deviate from their normal routine.
Kick the Junk Food it Never Helps
A snack before bed is pretty common for most people. When it comes to children however, their bodies and brains are sensitive to just what they eat and drink, especially at night. Avoid sugary foods and drinks close to bedtime so they won’t be hyper at a time that you’re trying to get them to settle in.
Drinks like soda and some juices that are high in sugar are best avoided up to an hour or more before lights out. Instead, get them into the habit of having some fruit snacks and milk or a sugar-free drink before it’s time to brush their teeth and get into their pajamas. That way your child won’t be calling for a drink or snack when they should be sleeping.
By keeping too many drinks and snacks well away from bed time you will also reduce the number of night time bathroom breaks that will be needed.
Structure is Key
Whatever bedtime routine you end up having, the best thing is having one in the first place. By making a night time schedule you will also be able to make a schedule for your child’s entire evening through backwards planning.
Just work backwards from lights out and stick to the times that you do all of the preceding events of the day. Dinner time, homework time, play time, snack time, hygiene time, story time, and finally bed time will give your child the structure that kids crave.
As an added bonus, this structure will also create a routine in your own time to help keep you on track of certain tasks as well. Most families function better when everyone operates on routines and habits, and the end of the day is a great starting point for planning your family time together once everyone is done with the school and work day.