Put a stop to the Bedtime Battle of Wills
Sleeping kids are so sweet and calm, but before that calm, so many parents go through a nightly battle. By the time their precious kids finally pass out, they are angry and exhausted. Getting kids to go to bed doesn’t have to be a war of wills, but it does take parents willing to stick to their word, stop negotiating, and be consistent.
A consistent routine helps kids know what to expect each evening. Start bed time and have lights out at the same time each night, even weekends. Kids get used to a familiar routine and the whining and negotiating will all but stop after a short while if you don’t make exceptions.
We start our routine at 7pm and lights out at 8pm. With an hour to get ready for bed, there is plenty of time for picking up, brushing teeth and reading a few stories before lights out without rushing. The kids know by now that if they don’t get ready for bed and pick up quickly, we won’t have time to cuddle and read. They are so used to it by now, they hardly need any reminding. When I ask them to get ready for bed, they know what to do and to do it quickly without complaining.
Stick to your word
If you say it’s bedtime, it’s bedtime. Don’t drag it out one night and then expect the kids not to beg for more time the next night. If they take their time getting ready or play rather than pick up their toys, and there’s no time to read. Don’t read. There may be tears that night, but chances are they’ll take you seriously the next time.
No T.V. just before bed
If we watch a movie, we try to make sure it’s over by 7pm so the kids are not going from sitting still with pent up energy from the excitement of whatever we were watching on television to the expectation of immediately winding down for bed time. After a movie my kids always need to move and get their wiggles out! Using T.V. time to relax is actually counterproductive. This study referenced in Time Magazine says “Watching television or playing video games close to bedtime can act like a jolt of caffeine to young children” We do movie and pizza night once a week, so we’re watching the movie at dinner time and not late in the evening. Just before bedtime is a great time to play board games, another mellow family activity, or allow the kids to play in their rooms for a while.
My kids rarely want to play in their rooms where they are removed from the family and the center of things. They more often bring toys into the living room to play during the day. They don’t want to be alone in their rooms upstairs, that is until we are getting ready for bed! While changing into pajamas and tidying up, there is so much temptation to play with those toys they haven’t seen all day. Sending them off to play in their rooms every night, or a few nights a week, before the bedtime routine starts, is a great way to wind down and give them a chance to explore their rooms without being nagged to hurry up and brush their teeth. Older kids might enjoy the quiet time to draw or journal. Once it’s a routine, they will stop protesting and their minds are free to open up to creativity and imagination, rather than thinking up good arguments to avoid bedtime.
Before my kids go upstairs to brush their teeth and change, they must go around the house and pick up any toys or dishes they left out. I used to be the one up for hours cleaning up, but getting the kids into the habit of picking up after themselves has proved beneficial! They leave out less of a mess knowing they will have to clean it up. The bigger the mess, the more time it takes to clean and again, we may end up without time to read together. Though, if I do notice a big mess, such as they brought a whole village of toys down to the living room to play with, I might suggest they start clean up earlier than usual.
Our Kids’ Bedtime Routine:
- 7pm announce that it’s time to get ready for bed
- pick up around the house
- brush teeth
- baths if needed
- pajamas on
- clothes put away and anything on the floor in bedrooms picked up
- snuggle and read together
- Last sip of water & use the toilet whether you need to or not
- Lights out, prayers, hugs & kisses
- Snuggle Time
Reading and lights out
If the kids are all ready, we cuddle up in my bed where there’s more room and I read a chapter or two and/or a story book or two depending on how much time we have. Then at 8pm, it’s off to bed.
I say prayers with each kid separately and tuck them in. They are familiar with the routine, in bed with lights out is always at 8pm, so they no longer whine, argue, or beg to stay up longer. It’s just part of their every day life. AND their favorite part of bedtime is still to come: Snuggle Time. They still might ask once in a while to stay up later, play longer, read more, but my answer is consistently no. I make it a point to always stick to my word, even when I really want to change my mind. If they can’t trust my No, or my Yes, for that matter, everything is up for negotiation and back to a battle of wills again.
Not a Drill Sargent Mom
Now, I don’t want you to think I rule my house as a dictator. I do negotiate some things and I offer lots of choice. Kids need to feel they have some say and some control over their own selves. The kids can pretty much do their bedtime routine in any order they wish. They change it around every night between brushing teeth, cleaning their rooms, and changing clothes. Sometimes they are so wrapped up in play or drawing that they don’t want to stop, so if they ask for more time I offer to skip reading time. “Okay, you can draw until 7:30 and then get ready for bed, but we won’t have time to read tonight.” or “Please go get everything ready for bed first, then you can keep working on your LEGO creation until it’s time for Lights Out, but that means no reading tonight.” If one child chooses to play quietly rather than read, it’s often a special one on one time with the other, reading a book of their own choosing. I am very flexible while still sticking to the basic routine and I feel my kids really appreciate that.
If you are just beginning a routine, however, I suggest you stick to a more strict plan for at least the first month so they know any options offered are not falling back into old patterns of negotiating. And once you do allow some wiggle room, if they abuse it, right back to the strict plan again.