Courtney: This summer, while on vacation, I watched by brother and sister-in-law struggle to get their almost four-year old to bed. He kept coming up with new reasons to stay up: he’s scared, he’s hungry, he needs talk-time, more stories…whatever! I felt for them because I had been there. Maybe not those exact excuses, but some version. And it made me crazy, it makes every parent crazy!
Natalie: Oh my gosh! Bugaboo is the WORST with bedtime! She has never, not once in her life, gone to bed without a fight. I’m not kidding. Not even when she was a newborn. In our house bedtime isn’t a battle, it is a war!
Courtney: I think all parents struggle with this at one stage or another — if they don’t, I don’t want to hear about it!
I certainly struggle with sleep patterns and changes . I’m sure you remember my post , Farmer Children
. My biggest and ongoing sleep struggle is that my kids (all three of them) get up at 5 a.m.
like clock work. Arg.
Natalie: Bug does that too; we almost never beat her awake. It is really bad during the summer. Seattle is so far North it gets light SUPER EARLY. She’ll peek out her window, and if there is even the faintest hint of light, she’s up. Though we’ve had some success getting her to stay in bed with an alarm clock.
I think that’s my first tip for parents who struggle with kid sleep.
When the light is green you can come out, but if it is red you’d better be in bed! It helps with both morning wake up (or come out of your room) times, and as a reminder to STAY IN BED after we tuck her in.
Courtney: That’s a good tip and we do something similar. They can’t come out until their clock reads 5 (we taped over the last two numbers!). For me, the thing that has helped getting my little ones in bed is to set and keep a bedtime routine!
2. Set a Routine.
We have a simple bedtime routine in our house. We have tubbies (if it is a bath night), PJs and teeth brushing, then two books, lights out and a quick snuggle. I don’t linger too long, not because they aren’t sweet and lovable, but because if I did, I would be there all night (mostly, because I would fall asleep!). Kids like routine and it helps ease the transition to bedtime.
3. Stick to a Routine.
No changes, no deviations. I only ‘break’ the routine in extreme situations (like travel, or special occasions), but I do what I can to keep it the same. It really helps curb the ‘extra’ requests at night.
Natalie: Yes, I agree! Routine is so important. It helps kids who are high strung (cough, cough, Bug, cough, cough) calm because they always know what to expect, and I think the sameness of it is soothing for all kids. I will say, routine works GREAT for Guy, but while it helps with Bug, it doesn’t keep her in bed! So we have a standard policy; we…
4. Just Say No.
We don’t give in at bedtime…ever. They ask, they plead, they beg…but we don’t let their cute little smiles fool us. In my experience, if you give in once they own you.
5. If They Get Up — Send Them Back.
We don’t let them get away with getting up and getting things. We just walk them back to bed. It may take a hundred times for a hundred nights, but eventually they will fall in line. (Fingers crossed, I hope!)
Courtney: We have definitely sent our kids back more than once! Another thing that helps, is to wind down before your start your routine. Bringing me to the next tip…
6. Don’t Be Rowdy.
We don’t get our kids all jazzed and then say lights out! They can’t make the transition and don’t get the importance of a good rest. Think about calming down about an hour before you want them to be in bed. We play a board game, build with legos, finish a puzzle, etc.
Natalie: For me, one of he hardest things about the bedtime battle is how negative it is. We can go the whole day without any incident and then the moment we close the door at bedtime, BAM, hell breaks loose — and with it the “need” to discipline. After a lot of trial and error I really find rewarding good bed times works better than disciplining bad ones. (Though, at times, we still have to discipline…)
7. Positive Reinforcement.
We make a sticker chart or some other tracking system and reward them for doing a good job. Sometimes it is just a sticker on the chart; sometimes it is a special breakfast, or maybe, they earn enough nights for a reward like a new book, a special outing or something. And when all else fails, my kids can be easily bought with ice cream!
Courtney: I love the idea of a reward system, and sticker charts have worked well for us for potty training…so I’m sure it would work for bedtime! One of the things that I learned early on was sometimes an earlier bedtime helps them sleep better/longer…which brings me to my next tip.
8. Remember, sleep begets sleep!
That old adage from newborn life still holds true! Kids who are well rested and not overtired sleep better (and go to bed easier) than kids who are overtired. So don’t be scared of early bed times or naps for older kids. Every kid is different, so it might not be appropriate for all, but it is worth a try.
Natalie: Yes, that is so important. I’ll tell you, we’ve tried it all with Bug, and we found it took her two hours to fall asleep– no matter when we put her to bed– so we moved her bedtime to 7, and it really did help. It wasn’t an immediate fix, but over time her behavior at bedtime improved because she wasn’t so tired!
With that said, I think my final tip is for all parents struggling with an extreme sleep case (like Bug):
9. Talk to your pediatrician. It turns out there are some medical reasons Bug struggles with sleep; there are reasons it takes her so long to fall asleep (regardless of the time we put her to bed) and reasons she wakes up so, so early. After careful consideration (I read a ton of studies and articles) AND with the approval and supervision of her pediatrician, we started giving Bug melatonin at bed time.
I was VERY hesitant about such a drastic move, but the results are unbelievable. We still have normal, bedtime issues, but nothing like it was before. Even Bug is able to articulate the difference sleep has made for her!
Courtney: Great advice…whenever in doubt ask for advice.
***Natalie and Courtney are trying a new format. We wrote this one together by emailing and texting back and forth. Do you like this format? Let us know what you think in the comments section! We want to hear from you!!***