Bedtime can be a very frustrating time for children and parents alike as it can become a battle. It is important to note that almost all healthy, normal children will resist bedtime at some point in their lives. After all, bedtime means the end of fun activities that have occurred throughout the day.
Difficulty with bedtime may be occurring for different reasons at different ages. Children up to the age of 3 years old may have difficulty with separation anxiety and may worry about what will happen to their parents while they are asleep. Older children may be scared while trying to sleep. They may fear the dark, nightmares, or monsters. Children in grade school and above may having difficulty going to sleep due to over stimulation. Especially during the pandemic, they may be over doing it on screen time, and not getting enough physical activity to burn off some of their excess energy. This may cause them to feel bored and resist going to sleep.
Here are some tips to help deal with bedtime resistance:
1. Establish a good, healthy nightly routine.
This should start about a hour before bedtime and consist of calming activities. Calming activities can include bath/shower time, reading, listening to music, a light snack, quiet play, and hygiene such as washing their face and brushing their teeth. At least a hour before bedtime you want to help your child avoid stimulating activities such as physical play, any and all screens, caffeine, and any sugary food or drinks.
2. Make sure you give warnings.
Next, make sure you give warnings. About 10 to 15 minutes prior to starting their bedtime routine, the child should be warned so they can transition out of their current activity. Additionally, while completing the bedtime routine, children should be warned. For example, “one more story, and we will be kissing you goodnight.” If this become consist and predictable, it can cut down on nighttime anxiety and be comforting to children.
3. Be firm and consistent.
Establishing a hassle free bedtime may require you to be firm and consistent. Stick to the routine and show confidence when kissing them goodnight or leaving the room. This will also require ignoring protests and whining, unless the children are ill. In the beginning, the protests may continue for up to an hour, however after a few nights of being ignored, they will dwindle. You can also assist your child in learning what they can do while they are waiting for sleep, a behavior that they will need to learn into adulthood. Don’t force them to sleep but let them know if they cannot fall asleep immediately, they can read or look at picture books.
4. Use a reinforcement chart.
You may also want to set up and reinforcement chart. Every morning that your child wakes up, was able to stay in their bed and successfully complete their nighttime routine, they can earn a sticker or stamp. When they have earned enough stickers or stamps, allow them to choose a small reward.
5. Keep children in their beds.
If you find young children leaving their bed, simply take them back to their own bed. Try to engage as little as possible in order to not reinforce the behavior. This may require several attempts, however once your child learns they do not get the desired attention from leaving their bed, this behavior should reduce. Also, for older children you may want to try a consequence like for every time the child comes out of their room, they have to go to bed a minute earlier the next night.
6. Model good behavior.
Remember to model appropriate bedtime behavior yourself. If you are always falling asleep on the couch or oversleeping and rushing in the morning, children also pick up on these habits. Model for your children healthy sleep behaviors and routines.
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