When my son was two-years-old, he mastered the art of scaling the rails of his crib before toddling in to the living room where his father and I were watching TV, grinning because he had outsmarted us. From that point on, it became impossible to keep him confined to his crib. We’d place him in there, and our little Indiana Jones would manage to swing back out and greet us before we’d even sat on the couch.
Obviously it was time for a big boy bed.
We held our breath as we tried it out the first night. And our son was so thrilled to be considered old enough for a regular bed that he stayed put as we kissed him goodnight and closed the child gate on the doorless doorway to his room. We thought things were going well when things remained quiet in the back part of the house. Too quiet. I got up silently from my place on the couch and peeked in on him in his room. And there he was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of the sheets on his bed. He had managed to climb over the gate, grab the ingredients he needed, climb back over, and then work his magic like a true chef.
After that, we kept the child gate up – but we also wedged two chairs on top of that to create a sort of cage. And yes, despite the fact that this successfully trapped him, my mischievous little monkey still attempted his escape by climbing to the top of the barricade and howling in glee.
The simple truth is, kids don’t like bedtime. They’re so afraid they’re going to miss something fun, they will do anything to stay up as late as possible. And besides, they’re not tired – why do THEY have to go to bed?
Because you’re tired.
Well, that, as well as the fact that they need a full night’s sleep to be able to function the next day, grow properly, and not be so grumpy that you’re tempted to hand them off to the nicest looking stranger you meet. And the best way to prepare them is by creating a bedtime routine that will help get them in the mood for curling up under the covers and staying in bed. Here are a few tips on how to get this done.
1. Verbally prepare them. Give them a rundown of what’s to be expected before bedtime. “First you’re going to take your bath, then brush your teeth, then we’ll read a story, say our prayers, and then go to bed.”
2. Keep it short and sweet. 30 minutes is a good amount of time for bedtime. If you can get it to 15, even better. But when it starts creeping up towards an hour of bedtime prep, those angelic kids have successfully managed to manipulate you. Let them know you are reading ONE story, and not their entire collection of Junie B Jones books – and stick to it.
3. Induce sleep. Alright, put that drowsy cough syrup away. Instead, try a warm cup of milk or a warm bubble bath. Rub their back for a few minutes while you two talk about pleasant things that happened that day. Keep the lights low and noises soft to instill a calming mood.
4. Make sure they’re comfy. Do they have enough blankets and pillows? Are they warm enough? Is their bed mattress quality enough to help them sleep? A good night’s sleep hinges on a decent bed to sleep on (and as someone who finally bit the bullet and bought a new mattress, this is a reminder to you adults as well. I’ve never slept so good!).
5. Keep it consistent. Once you’ve found the perfect mix for your bedtime routine, stick to it every night. Kids thrive on routine. It makes them feel safe knowing what to expect. A nightly schedule will become so habitual you soon won’t have to even remind them what comes next.
And then, once they’re in bed….
6. Keep the rest of the house as “boring” as possible. If the TV is on, keep it low. Turn the lights down. For at least 30 minutes, try to make staying up as uninteresting as possible. With a lot of work and a little luck, your little crumbgrinder is sure to get used to sleeping at the same hour every night.
Of course, it’s not just the little kids who need a full night’s sleep. Older kids need to get enough shut-eye as well. Yet, teens aren’t going to be keen on getting tucked in with a bedtime story after you give them a bubble bath. But they can still benefit from a modified routine. End the night by talking about the highs and lows of their day, maybe even enhanced by a nightly cup of chamomile tea. Make a steadfast rule that the kitchen is closed, the electronics are to be put away (or collected by you), and that bedtime means they can either go to sleep or do a quiet activity until they’re tired enough to sleep.
For my little escape artist, using a mixture of being firm about bedtime as well as doing the same thing every night helped me to eventually be able to get him to bed without ever having to argue with him. To this day, bedtime is a steadfast rule in our home.
What are some of the ways you help your child get to sleep?