Tips for Getting Kids to Bed on Time

Sleep.  It is the best thing when you get it and the worst when you don’t.  While there is no quick fix to making sure you and your kids get enough sleep the first step is getting to bed on time.  As if it were that easy.   It can be if you follow a few guidelines:

  • Wear out everyone in the afternoon with vigorous activity.  
  • Before dinner:
    • Do homework.
    • Set out clothes for the next day.
    • Make tomorrow’s lunches together.
    • Have backpacks ready to go by the door.
  • Then switch gears:  
    • Get in some alone book time (everyone looks at or reads a book alone, even for 10 minutes) before you all prepare dinner.
    • Play soothing background music.
  • At dinner:
    • Lower the lights and keep them low for the evening.
    • Continue the music.  Environmental sounds are great too.
    • Engage in pleasant conversation, avoid conflict.
  • Bedtime routine.
    • Establish and follow the same bedtime routine every night including weekends.
    • Schedule in enough time for baths, tooth brushing and two stories, or better yet try chapter books even for your youngest, before your designated lights out time.  
    • Start earlier than you think you need.   Just because it took one hour last night doesn’t mean it will take the same tonight.  
    • Expect the unexpected.  Respond to it with humor.  
    • Commit to being fully present during the bedtime routine.  If the kids pick up that you want them to go to bed they will do their best to keep you engaged for longer than ever.
    • Incorporate a final ritual to put the day to rest.  Try sharing the happiest and saddest parts of everyone’s day.  Avoid problem solving.  Older children may benefit from writing to-do lists or itemizing concerns.  Try a visualization of gathering up loose ends and putting them aside.  
  • Things to keep in mind:
    • Children learn trust and security through having routines.  When they understand the schedule and what is expected they feel safe.  
    • Your family will test the schedule and you from time to time.  When you maintain the standard they will settle into it again.
    • Activity after dinner will stir everyone up and postpone bedtime.  Save wrestling with Dad for weekend mornings.
    • We all learn best when we experience life through our senses.  The more senses you include in your routine, the more success you will create.  Your family may enjoy thinking of ways to help.  “What do our eyes want to see?”  “What will help our ears rest?”  “What scents lull us?”  “What foods help our bodies to rest?”  “What soothes my skin?”  “What movement comforts me?”
    • Plan ahead for the time change.  Discuss it and decide as a family how you will do things, and what will be the same, and what will change.
    • Decide as a family how you will respond to awakenings during the night.  Announce your plan and do it the same every time. “I will come in, help you meet your need here in the bedroom, hug and kiss you and return to bed.”
    • Acknowledge the behavior you see.  “I see that you are jumping on the bed.  What does your body need to settle down?”  “We will do it for one minute and then read.”
    • Accept the feelings voiced.  “Yes, I hear that you are angry that it is bed time.  Tell me all about it.”   After a minute or two and without problem solving or addressing any content say, “Thank you for sharing, it is time to say goodnight.”
    • For fun: Make a CD of affirmations for your child to listen to as she drifts off. Focus on specific areas.  Say it as if it were already happening.  “You are now finding it easier and easier to follow directions.”  “Everyday you're learning better ways to express your needs.”  Repeat each one three times.
    • Create and maintain your adult bedtime routine so that you will be rested and able to think clearly when the next challenge comes your way.  And we all know it will come.

Good Night.  Sweet dreams.  

Source: Tulum Dothee is a credentialed and certified educator and counselor, with 30+ years experience teaching and working with families. For more information visit her web site.