Getting Your Child to Go to Sleep
Putting kids to bed at night can be an enjoyable time of closeness between parent and child. It is a ritual full of hugs, kisses, cuddling, stories and love. But, it can also be a time dreaded by many parents. I was one of them, but not anymore, for the most part. We still have some bad nights, but most bedtimes are now are a pleasant and enjoyable time with my daughter that I treasure. If you are having trouble getting your child to sleep at night or if your child refuses to go to sleep alone it can be very frustrating.
Having been in this situation before (and recently), I have some insight into it. Although I am not a professional, I do have 3.5 years experience with a highly spirited little girl. Having been through bedtime nightmares, I have three pieces of advice that may provide help for parents struggling with getting their children to bed and to sleep at night.
First, try to stay positive. There have been many times that I have lost my temper with my daughter. She can be infuriating, but, every time that I have lost my temper, it has only made my job harder. What I try to do is focus on the positive things she does. Praise her when she does good things. At first I ignore bad behavior. I try to refrain from reacting to it at all. If this doesn’t extinguish the bad behavior (like jumping on the bed instead of lying down on it) then I stay calm and let her know the consequences if she doesn’t stop. Then I follow through, calmly. Usually following through is leaving the room for a short period. When I come back, I don’t talk about what she did wrong (she already knows) but give her a chance to do better.
Basically, by staying positive you reward good behavior and ignore or remove motivation for bad behavior. It sounds a lot easier than it is. Staying positive while not reacting in a reinforcing way to negative behavior doesn’t always solve the problem in the moment. But I can say from experience that it is better than the alternative of losing your temper, yelling, or punishing.
Second, wind down followed by a consistent bedtime routine. Routine is very important for kids. It helps them feel safe and secure because they know what is going to happen. Keeping a bedtime routine that is consistent is important, and being calm enough to participate in the bedtime ritual is also key. Different things may be more calming for some kids than others. For example, I always hear parents say that a nice warm bath before bed is soothing for kids and will help them relax. Not my kid. My kid likes to run around crazy after a bath. If she is really wound up, I’ll sometimes put on a half hour PBS Kids show for her before going up to bed. This does help calm her, although I’ve heard parents say that TV before bed makes it harder for kids to settle.
The fact is, kids tend to get hyper at night, especially if they are exceptionally tired or if they had an exceptionally fun or exciting day that day. I can tell you, it is not always possible to keep them from winding up instead of down before bedtime, but you can direct them to calmer activities, distract them with quiet games or stories. I’ve found that some one-on-one parental attention prior to getting ready for bed is very helpful for encouraging cooperation with things like brushing teeth and going to bed when it is time. Keeping EVERYTHING consistent is not necessary. But there should be some rituals that your child can count on. Ours is making the goodnight rounds with hugs and kisses for daddy and the doggies, reading two books while sitting in bed, then lights out and cuddling with mommy.
Third, don’t be afraid to try something new in the name of consistency. Being consistent IS important, but if you are consistently doing something that doesn’t work, you will only frustrate yourself and your child. Changing things up when they are not working is good; and it is important if you want to find a solution for getting your kid to sleep. I suggest reading up on different parenting techniques, finding one that resonates with you and giving it an honest go. Stick with it for a while, give it a solid chance and be as consistent as you can with the technique. But don’t be afraid to make adjustments that make sense to you. Every kid is different, and you know your kid better than anyone. After a few days, if the technique you’re using still isn’t working, then try a new one.
As lovely as bedtime rituals with kids can be, sometimes putting your kids to bed is anything but lovely. The best help for parents who are struggling with this that I can offer is to remain positive, keep a consistent routine and try new strategies when the old ones aren’t working. If you do these things you will find a solution in the end. Try to remain compassionate and consider your child’s point of view. Doing this may help you to keep your temper and it may help you find a solution to help your child go to sleep. Remember that your child’s sleep problems won’t last forever.