Practical tips on how to make bedtime easier, end bedtime battles, and improve your evenings. Apply these tips for an easier time tonight!
It seemed that at every bedtime, I couldn’t avoid the sound of whining or crying, sometimes both. My nighttime routine wasn’t enough to convince my kids that it was time for bed. Instead, evenings became epic battles convincing them to finally fall and stay asleep.
Sometimes it’s when they were afraid to stay in bed all night, or when they struggled with transitioning to a toddler bed. Other times, I had to keep walking them back into bed for a good hour because they didn’t want to sleep in their new one. (It gets tough when they learn how to use doorknobs!)
How to make bedtime easier
What should’ve been a relaxing wind down to the day was instead a power struggle to convince them it was time for bed.
If you can relate, you’re not alone friend.
Your child is overtired by the end of the night, yet doesn’t want to calm down. She’ll throw a fit if you don’t lie down with her, but once you do, she still kicks, tosses, and turns. By the time she falls asleep, it’s already past 10 or 11pm.
Thankfully, it doesn’t always have to be this way. After so many battles, I learned how to make bedtime easier — the steps that finally made our nights smooth and predictable. I hope they work for you, too:
1. Have regular sleep and wake up times, even on weekends
Seven o’clock. That’s the magic hour of the day when all three kids wake up, whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday. Even if they wake up at 6:20, they still need to stay in bed until we open the door.
Come bedtime, eight o’clock is the time when they need to be in bed and the lights are turned off. We make exceptions of course, but they’re exactly that—rare times to accommodate special occasions. Otherwise, we have regular sleep and wake up times every day. And the days we’ve deviated from have been chaotic.
Kids thrive on consistency. Long before they can tell time, they adjust to doing the same things at the same times of the day. A consistent routine leaves little room for arguments (they won’t fight an issue when it isn’t one). It’s pretty hard to argue your way into a later bedtime when you’re always in bed by 8pm.
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2. Get your child to pitch in
Not only do kids thrive on consistent routine, they also love helping. Young kids enjoy feeling responsible and doing tasks only you’ve done before.
Include clean up time before your sleep routine. Your child can fetch her own toothbrushes and rinsing cups. Hand them her clothes to place in the hamper or the pajamas to lay on her bed. Pitching in with bedtime tasks makes her feel more a part of the routine and likely to sleep.
Most of all, make it fun. Getting her to clean up after herself is more doable when you frame it as something positive.
3. Transition into bedtime
Your child will transition into bedtime—whether it’s an easy one or not can be up to you. Is she rough housing in a loud, bright room? Do you change plans every evening, making it harder to signal that it’s bedtime?
Make your transitions sleep-friendly. A wild chase around the house won’t help her adjust to sleep—changing that to quiet play might be better. Adapt the environment as well: play calm music instead of loud and fast, or close the blinds to make the rooms darker.
Then, offer a heads up between each transition. Imagine you’re in the middle of reading a terrific book. Now imagine your partner saying, “Okay, time to come to bed now. Right now. If you don’t come, I’m taking that book away.”
We’re not honoring their focus and zest at that moment, are we?
Instead, tell her she’ll be changing into pajamas in five minutes. If you’re in the middle of playing, remind her that after this one tickle-fest, it’s time to take a bath. Or that she has five more blocks to stack before it’s time to clean the toys up.
Don’t just break in to her activity—give her a chance to wind down and wrap up.
Another tip about transitions? Don’t threaten—it hardly works. Say it in a fun, loving, not threatening way: “It’s bath time!” (said with a big smile).
4. Talk about sleep as a good thing
If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself with hands on hips, forehead furrowed, and bellowing out to your kids, “It’s time for bed!”
Understandable. They’ve been fighting sleep for half an hour now, refusing to do the tasks to get ready for bed.
But do this too often and your child sees bedtime as The Dreaded Thing. Everything else—staying up, playing, reading—seem more fun in comparison.
Instead, talk to her about the benefits of sleep. Frame the benefits in ways she can understand, such as growing stronger and not getting sick. And yes, acknowledge the difficulty in saying goodbye to a fun day, but also talk about how relaxing and important good sleep is.
And work together as a team. Ask her what she needs to make bedtime easier. You might learn simple tactics like adding a night light or giving her a few minutes to read before bed.
5. Set a timer
On any given day, you’ll likely hear the timer in our home blast beep, beep, beep, loud enough for everyone to hear. A timer works wonders with kids, including bedtime.
Let’s say you let your child watch 30 minutes of a movie before bedtime, except movies are much longer than 30 minutes. It’s difficult to peel her away from Frozen when she’s right in the middle of singing “Let It Go.”
Instead, set a timer. Explain you’ll turn the TV off once the timer beeps. If not television, then maybe it’s bath time. I’ll set a timer for my kids’ baths more for myself so I know how long they’ve been running the shower. But those three beeps are also their cue that it’s time to get out of the tub and get dressed.
6. Follow through with consequences
While it’s important to show empathy and work as a team, remember your role as the parent. It’s tempting to soothe your sobbing child or cave in to his unusual demands. After all, it seems like a quick fix to what would otherwise be an epic meltdown over bedtime.
But be firm in your expectations, and follow through with the consequences of failed action. This doesn’t mean abusing power, disrespecting, or bullying him, but it does mean being firm and providing the boundaries.
One evening, my then-three-year-old refused to take a bath and end the day. We gave him two options: he can take a bath, or he can go straight to bed with no bath, books, or quiet playing. He still refused to take a bath. Though difficult to see him upset, we sent him straight to bed, like we had said we would.
The next morning, he still looked glum, but he whispered, “Tomorrow, I take bath and sleep.”
You see, parents shouldn’t plead. We need to establish limits, set boundaries in a loving way, give natural consequences, and follow through with them.
You can even explain why. Kids like to know the reason: “Hang your towel like this so it doesn’t fall off.” Eventually hanging the towel will become second nature without you uttering a command. For now, explain the importance of the action if he refuses.
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A miserable bedtime routine doesn’t make for a happy family. Kids are whining and crying and you’re losing your temper. The techniques you’ve tried aren’t working—all at a time you should be snuggling and relaxing at the end of the day.
Your nights call for change. Maybe that means finding a better transition to sleep or establishing sleep and wake up times every day, even weekends. Being firm with your expectations while involving your child in their bedtime routine.
Your bedtime does not have to be the epic battle that it is today. Soon, you’ll be able to say, “It’s bedtime!” all without a furrow in your brow.
p.s. Check out Bedtime by Elizabeth Verdick, a children’s book that explains the importance of going to bed:
Learn how to end bedtime battles with these articles:
- Children’s Books about Bedtime
- 10 Things You Should Do when You Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
- What to Do when Your Child Plays Instead of Sleeps
- How to Stop Nagging Your Child to Get Stuff Done
- Transitioning to a Toddler Bed at 18 Months
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