Kids Bedtime Battle Strategies

bedtime strategies

At bedtime, why is it that as soon as you tell your child it’s time for bed, she has to show you how fast she can run around the room five times? How well she can hop on one foot and then summersault all the way around the room. Your child was sitting quietly watching her iPad, and now she is running wild.

Then once she calms down just a little bit she needs five trips to go potty, forty-two snacks, and please mommy, please can we read fifteen books.  Or maybe it’s just a full-blown battle from the start.  What is going on? Ok, I may have exaggerated that a bit, but seriously some nights it sure feels like forty-two snacks and 15 books.

If this sounds all too familiar I have five bedtimes Battle Strategies to help you calm the chaos put sanity and structure into your child’s bedtime and assure your kid a quality of sleep.  These five strategies are game-changers as they bring predictability and the same routine every single night into your child’s bedtime.  Having a predictable routine makes your toddler feel safe, and safe means emotional regulation. Unpredictability means anything can happen including the summersaults and request for fifteen books before going to sleep.

  • Battle Strategy Number One – Avoid Screen Time Two Hours Before Bedtime
  • Battle Strategy Number Two – Put Your Child to Bed Early
  • Battle Strategy Number Three – Have a Bedtime Mantra
  • Battle Strategy Number Four – You Decide the Time and Routine: Your Child Decides pj’s and which Book.
  • Battle Strategy Number Five – Use a Stoplight Wake-up Clock.

Bedtime strategies Child Toddler

Battle Strategy Number One:

Avoid Screen Time Two Hours Before Bedtime

The screen time your child has just before bedtime may be part of the reason they have a difficult time going to bed and going to sleep. You may already know that the blue light from screens is not conducive to sleep. The reason for this is that The blue light blocks the production of melatonin – the sleep chemical.

A child’s brain is not developed enough to give him a sense of time. So her body relies on substances like melatonin to signal when it is time to fall asleep. If melatonin isn’t being produced, At that moment, her brain is telling her to wake up – come on, let’s move, run, jump, and summersault. When you tell her again, it’s bedtime, she collapses to the floor as she becomes emotionally dysregulated and the bedtime battle is game on.

Does this sound all too familiar? Yup! Here is what you can do. Stop screen-time two hours before bedtime. This gives your toddler’s brain time to cue the sleepytime chemicals and prepare her body for sleep. Start to make this part of the bedtime routine. If your child is used to screen time until just before bedtime, turn off the screens 20 minutes earlier each night. By the end of the first week, he will have adjusted to no screen time for two hours before bed.

Anticipate that no screen time before bed will be tricky at first. To help you hold that boundary, spend time with your child engaging in calming activities.

    • Color a picture with your child.
    • Put a puzzle together.
    • Create a story together about your child’s favorite TV character.
    • Play with playdough. This is a good wind-down activity because your child sits quietly and engages the senses in play.
    • Yoga and Stretching. Put on some calming music and do some yoga and stretching together. Rename some of the poses with silly get-ready-for-bed names and incorporate them into your child’s bedtime routine. The downward dog could be renamed “looking under the bed,” lotus could be “quiet time,” etc.

Bedtime strategies Child Toddler

Battle Strategy Number Two:

Put your Child to Bed Early.

Your child’s bedtime is supposed to be 8 pm, but somehow you lost track of time; now it is 9 pm. Instead of your child winding down for the night, he is wound up like the ever-ready bunny. Now I’m probably dating myself here because many of you may not know who or what the Ever-ready bunny was. This rabbit was in a commercial for ever-ready batteries. It was a battery-operated bunny that never ran out of energy, kind of like your child at 9 pm. Where did your child get all of that energy?

You are sure that this same little person looked tired out and ready for bed about two hours ago. Where did your child get all of that energy? What just happened? You likely know that your child is overtired. But why does your child have more, not less, energy at this time? At night, when a child is overtired, his cortisol levels rise, giving his body a burst of extra energy. Once you finally get your child to bed and asleep, those same cortisol levels will wake his body up earlier than usual. If you thought letting a child stay up late would result in him sleeping later, you might be disappointed because there is a much greater chance he will wake up earlier than expected.

So how much sleep does your child need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, whose guidelines have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • Ages 4 – 12 months need 12 – 16 hours  (including naps)
  • Ages 1 – 2 years      need  11 – 14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3 – 5  years      need  10 – 13 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 6 – 12 years need  9  – 12   hours

Remember these are just recommendations and each child is different, and their sleep needs may vary.

If your five-year-old gets up at seven in the morning, try to make sure he is in bed no later than 8 pm.

If your child is used to staying up late, put your child to bed 15 minutes earlier every night until she gets 11 or 12 hours of sleep a night. Aim to keep the same schedule on holidays and weekends.

Avoid sodas and sugary drinks after 1 pm. The rest of the day give your child water, milk, or natural fruit drinks with no additives.

Bedtime strategies Child Toddler

Battle Strategy Number Three:

Have a Bedtime Mantra.

Why is nighttime such a challenge for kids? As a parent, you are acutely aware of the bedtime challenges you may be experiencing. It is important to remember that most bedtime challenges stem from separation anxiety in our kids. Nighttime is the longest time of the day that your child has to separate from you.

It makes sense that if your child has a hard time during the day with being away from you at bedtime, these fears and worries don’t magically disappear. Separation anxiety at night looks like this:

  • Delaying with “one more thing” potty, snack, book, or just one more song.
  • They become emotionally dysregulated when you leave their room.
  • Coming out of their room shortly after you put them to bed.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and coming into your room.

Help ease separation anxiety for your child with a bedtime mantra. Incorporate into your bedtime routine a mantra that your child says to themself before you leave the room and during the night if they wake up.

The mantra: “My mommy (or daddy) is near, I am safe, I have my lovey.” Most children have a favorite lovey or transitional objects like a blanket or favorite stuffed animal. If your child doesn’t have a lovey, the last part with the (lovey or transitional object) could be, “my bed is snuggly.”

Battle Strategy Number Four:

You Decide the Time and Routine:  Your Child Decides Pj’s and Which Book. 

We like to be in the know when it comes to plans that include us. Even more than adults, kids need to be in the know.

You have likely noticed that when you tell your child something will happen in the future. They have a hard time remembering, or most often, cannot recall what you told them. This is because the part of a child’s brain that lets them remember future events doesn’t develop until age 4-7 and slowly improves during ages 8 -13 but doesn’t fully develop until age 21.

What is the significance of this? For your child to be in the know about what time is bedtime and what the routine is, you may have to remind your child every night when it is bedtime and what the bedtime routine is. Eventually, their brain will develop enough to remember most of the routine.

If your child is engaged in an engaging activity, you will want to remind him early. It will sound something like this. “Bedtime is in 10 minutes.” then, when the ten minutes is up, you might say, “It’s time for bed now.” Do you want to race me to the bathroom to brush your teeth, or should I zoom you like an airplane?”

It is essential that you set a consistent bedtime routine in order for your kid to go to the bed on time. You choose:

  • Time for bed.
  • The number of books. (I recommend no more than two)
  • The number of songs. ( I recommend one song)

Your child chooses: (this makes them feel important and gives them control over part of the routine)

  • Which pj’s to wear.
  • Which books to read.

Help your child remember what the routine is each night. Create a chart for the bedtime routine. If your child is too young to read, use pictures as a visual reminder of the routine. Hang the chart on a wall next to your child’s bed.

It is essential to remember that your child may not want you to leave her alone for the night, especially if there have been some recent changes or stressful events in her life. At bedtime, do your best not to delay the routine with snacks, potty, just one more book, or one more song – please, mom, please, just one more. Respond with a “When and Then” statement.  When you hop into bed, then we will have time for your story and a song. What book do you want to read first?

Battle Strategy Number Five:

Use a Stoplight Wake-up Clock.

It’s 5 am, and you got up early for some quiet time/alone time. Just as you are settling into your favorite comfy chair, your child comes out of her room, rubbing her eyes. Seeing you up, she exclaims Mommy with delight and runs over to you for some snuggles. It is kind of nice to have some quiet/snuggle time, but you were so looking forward to some quiet/alone time. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

If your child is waking up at 6 am happy and alert, she may be an early riser. However, if she is waking up at 5 or 6 am a total grump, it may be time to look at the most common reasons kids wake up early when they haven’t had enough sleep.

  • Bedtime was too late – review strategy #2 for why an early bedtime is essential.
  • Your child missed their afternoon nap.
  • Your child recently dropped their afternoon nap.
  • Your child stayed up too long after their afternoon nap ended. It’s best if bedtime is no more than four hours after their nap ends.
  • Too much light is coming into their room in the morning – Get some black-out curtains.

Did you see a theme here? Not enough sleep is the primary reason kids wake up too early.

If you’ve eliminated the above common reasons for early rising, a Stoplight Wake-up Clock is a visual way for your child to see when it is time to get up. The clock looks like a stoplight. You set the clock for when you want your child to wake up. The red light stays on until it is time for your child to wake up then the green light comes on.

Kids’ brains are not developed enough for them to have a sense of the time of day. The Stoplight Wake up Clock tells them if it’s time to get up when they wake up.

When the light is red – Stop and stay in bed.

When the light is green – Know it’s Time to Go

To adjust your child’s early waking, set the clock for the time they usually wake up. Then change the time by 15 minutes later every morning until they get up at the desired time.

Conclusions and Summary:

Bedtime should be a time to connect and enjoy snuggles, books, a song, and nighttime kisses with your child.  Try my five strategies to create calm and eliminate the chaos in your child’s bedtime routine and let them sleep at night.   Let me know in the comments below how these strategies and scripts helped with your child’s bedtime.

To learn more about Emotional Social Parenting (ESP) 

For Books and Learning Activities about Emotions and Big Feeling.

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