bedtime with children can be the worst. something dreaded, full of frustration, and moments that don't make us the most proud of our mother'ing. but it doesn't have to be that way! i've slowly built the routine that gets my little guy down for bed on time and with ease - giving mama plenty of time to unwind before hitting the sack at a respectable hour. read on, mamas, so i can pass on the goodness!
as my mother always says, let’s work backwards. first decide when you would like your child in bed by (look >here< if you're unsure), then decide what elements are apart of your bedtime routine, and calculate a rough estimate of how long it takes to achieve those tasks. this will give you an idea of when to start prepping for bed. you will tweak this as you practice, learn, and eventually nail this routine.
next, remember the foundations: consistency, choices, and preparation. do your darn hardest every single night to preserve your little one's routine. it is so good for them (for all of us), and lets them know exactly what to expect. in turn, this cues them on how to act. another key thing in peaceful parenting is providing children with choice. growing up is learning how to be independent. allowing your child to develop this healthy trait reduces resistance. of course, provide them with 2 choices that you are happy with; avoid open-ended questions where they could pick something that you have to say no too, upset them, and achieve exactly the opposite of our goal. lastly, remember to give your child plenty of time to adjust and prepare for what's next. allow them advance notice when something is ending soon, and never abruptly tell them it is time to stop or leave. this is startling to them, and very hard for someone who does not have any sort of understanding or grapple on emotions yet!
now let's see how to put these principles into practice. my ideal bedtime for Adiric is 7:30. this is due to the recommendation a 2 year old gets 10-12 hours of nighttime sleep, with a 1-3 hour nap. i wake aidric up at 6:30 each morning, just before we need to leave so that i can get him to his sitter before work. presuming he gets to sleep by 8:00, he gets 10.5 hours of sleep. now, there are many days he does not get to sleep until 9:30, due to a late start. that's ok. i do my best, and try not to stress too much about it. he can always make up for it at nap time.
i start winding him down as soon as he eats dinner. when i see that he is nearly finished, i begin running his bath. he goes directly from the table to the tub to wash up. his play time in the bath is determined by how long dinner took us. if dinner was prepped and all i had to do was warm it, he gets much more time to splash and play. but if it’s a night i’m cooking from scratch, he may be in just long enough to get washed up. either way, he always loves bath time, and i make it as interactive as possible. i use this time to let him be as independent as he’d like and encourage his development. i point out his body parts as i wash them, for example, and he follows my commands like “stand up,” or even practices tasks on his own. he loves to apply his lotion to himself and, most recently, has been learning to pour the water over his head when it’s time to rinse.
after his bath, i ask whether he would like to watch a show (the answer is always “ya!”). i make sure to have netflix ready and his pj’s out before we get out of the tub, to minimize his distraction. a major key i use at bedtime is reducing stimuli and temptations for other activities. this means picking up all toys before bedtime and streamlining our routine, so that there’s little room for him to want to do something else, ask for it, and be told no-thus bringing on frustration and tears.
i let him pick his show, and we snuggle on the couch, singing and dancing. how long he watches is again determined by what time it is. if i need to cut a show short, my trick is to fast forward to the last few minutes. my son watches primarily the same things time and again, so by now he is familiar with the endings of these shows. when the show ends, it’s one of many cues that it’s bedtime.
this is another key to an easy transition to bedtime. cues: lots of them. one way to establish this is of course through consistency and repetition, as routines accomplish as a whole. another is to repeatedly prepare your child for what is coming. giving them time to protest as they adjust to the idea is essential.
remember the protesting is not the problem. a kid is always going to be a kid; bedtime is just never going to sound fun. and that’s ok! as the parent, we need to be aware of this, and prepare for it. by planning ahead to give our child adequate time to feel their feelings about any given situation-on our time-we can remove the frustration and fighting about it. accomodate for this natural response by building in a few extra minutes to let it happen, and then prompting it to happen on your timeline. as i continue to say, i like to do this in a multitude of ways; through routine, and physical and verbal cues.
here's an example of physical cues: something he experiences that tells his brain it's time for bed. once the show has finished (whether naturally or on magic mama time), i quickly mute it, and turn the brightness down on my computer. this signals to my son it is OVER. when he begins banging on my computer attempting to see another one, there is nothing he can do to make this happen. i do this to ensure he does not see the beginning of a new episode, which would cue him that we are about to watch another, only adding to his confusion, frustration, and disappointment when i shut it off.
again, this helps to keep our whole routine geared to making a clear message, free of conflicting signs for his little developing brain to interpret: it is bedtime. i quickly transition aidric into brushing his teeth, something he loves to do, and will have him quickly cutting off his tears as he runs off, laughing, to the bathroom. he used to hate brushing his teeth, but repetition and allowing him independence in the process has worked to grow his love for it.
because i keep so consistent with this practice, i witnessed for the first time last night aidric going through his cues all on his own! it was a proud mama moment to top them all. when the ending credits of his show came on, i reached to mute and stop the show, but before i could, aidric had closed the lid of my laptop, understanding it was over and what was next. he ran to the bathroom before i could even mention brushing his teeth, and waited for me to help him do so. it was the most heart-warming thing to see him so well adjusted to his routine. a smart little cookie!
soon, i would like to be able to add reading books together as part of our routine. but for now, "reading" his books is one of aidric's favorite playtime activities, and gets him too hyper to be a part of his bedtime cues. to him, reading a book means it's time to get excited and play!
as i mentioned, i give aidric plenty of head’s up bedtime is coming, and this includes verbally telling him so. i begin this by telling him before his show starts, “one show and then it’s bedtime!” i continue telling him, “it’s almost bedtime!”, “are you ready to go night-night?”, etc. when the episode is just a few minutes from being done. as soon as he’s brushed his teeth, it’s time for kisses and goodnights. i pick him up and tell him it is now time for bed. i carry him to bed, and i lay with him. at this part, he is normally either yelling, crying, or scrambling away from me. however, i keep my tone light and happy, but don’t let him up. i hold him, patting his back, talking to him about his animals. after a few minutes, on a typical night, this dies down fairly quickly and he takes interest in his stuffed animals and snuggling with me. we practice giving kisses to his animals. he might be a little “too awake,” giggling and being silly with me and the animals. i allow this, as long as he is lying down. if he gets up, i stop, and firmly tell him to lie down. still, i do not raise my voice or get angry. as soon as he lies down again, i resume my happy voice and continue as normal. on a harder night when he is being inconsolable, i sing to him and rub his head to soothe him.
once he’s calmed and settled into bed, i tell him goodnight and that i love him. he knows what’s coming at this part, and will usually get apprehensive, telling me no or grabbing my hand. i repeat it a couple of times, getting him prepared for me to leave, then get up to slip out. i always stop at the door, no matter if he’s quiet or screaming, tell him goodnight and blow him a kiss, then shut the door. this provides some amount of closure, and prevents a child from feeling abandoned. some nights he’s completely quiet. some nights he cries for a few minutes. i always stand my ground, and rarely have a problem with him getting up, or continuing to cry more than a few moments.
of course, not every night will be perfect. but we can still be prepared, and save our efforts by enlisting some tried and true methods. the key is to knowing your child, and really interpreting what it is they need.
what to do if your child won't stop crying
if after i leave he is still inconsolable after a few minutes, i go back in. i usually find there’s something wrong, like he needs his water cup filled, he can’t reach one of his stuffed animals, a cat is bothering him, or he needs a new diaper. if not, sometimes he just needs more snuggling, and that’s ok. i lie back down with him, and almost always he quiets instantly. i simply restart our routine from that point. i sing to him, rub his head, pat his back, gradually backing off of these one by one, until he’s still enough i feel safe to slip out again.
what to do when your child gets out of bed
i read long ago about a solution for a child that continues to resist bedtime by getting out of bed. i used it consistently in high school and college with the children i worked with, and it has never failed me. if a child does this (and all other issues are resolved, ie, drink is filled, everything is in reach, pants are dry), you simply pick the child up or take their hand, and wordlessly tuck them back into bed. you do not speak or reprimand them. this is giving them attention, and to a child who does not want to go to bed, this is incentive to try again. continue this same technique consistently, as many times as it takes, until they are in bed. you do not have to be mean, cold, or rough to accomplish this. simply do it wordlessly, and consistently. this lets them know what is expected of them, and what they can expect to happen should they do it again. they will be less inclined to get up again if they are not receiving the result they wanted (to stay up longer), or an incentive to resist (attention). now if you have a child for which this has been an ongoing problem that you've handled another way, this may take a few nights of consistent work to overcome. but i promise you, i’ve had some of the worst bedtimers, and this always works!
the key is to stay consistent and trust the process. give it time, and you will thank yourself. your well-rested, well-adjusted children will, too. xx