When I was a young mother of one, I had no idea how good I had it at night time. My oldest has always been like me: he cherishes sleep. When he was a baby and toddler, he would not only take two separate two-hour naps during the day, but he’d go to bed at 7 each night and sleep all night. He seemed to love his bedtime rituals, so I was not prepared for the bedtime battle that came with kiddo #2. This child decimated our routines and seemed to only go to sleep on his watch. Nap times were wars as well. Even now as he’s about to enter middle school, he’s still super offended that it’s bed time each night. Life is too fun for this kid and it always has been. When he was a toddler, he’d bring so much personality and humor into our lives, while simultaneously coming in like a wrecking ball at nap or bedtime. I thought, How can someone so adorable be so hard to get to sleep?
Because each night made me question my parenting, my sanity, and my ability to raise good humans, we completed some trial and error with bedtime rituals. At least one of these tried and true attempts at sanity worked to give us our power back at bedtime.
Book Time Bribery
Two of my three children love reading on their own, and even the one who doesn’t loves being read to. One of my brilliant mom friends gave me the idea of book time bribery. At the beginning of our bedtime routines I would say, “Okay, you’re starting at three books tonight. Let’s get done with teeth brushing and face washing and we’ll read.” Most of the time that worked. However, on difficult nights, I would take away a book, and we’d only read two. “Okay, we only get two tonight because it took us so long to get to bed. We’ll start again with three tomorrow.” Then, I had my child physically put a book back on the shelf, so they could feel the consequence of a fussy bedtime. The act of physically accepting a consequence for poor behavior worked like magic. The next night of bedtime was usually so much easier.
“Light Time” at Night Time
I purchased book lights from Walmart that look like switches but are run by a battery. They give off great light, and they are my kids’ favorites. They can stick to a wall as well, so the page turners don’t have to bother with it once it’s on. As my kids have aged, they love to read before bed. It’s their quiet time. It’s their way of stalling bedtime without me being around. As a teacher, I know it’s an incredibly good practice to get them reading before bed. My most difficult sleeper doesn’t like books (we’re working on this), but he’s an incredible artist. So for his night time light time, he chooses to fill his sketchbook. I like to make it a point to say that this is their time. They get to choose what calms them 20 minutes before bed. This ownership matters because the choice they make is theirs. Whether they have a good time during their 20 minutes of “light time” is totally on them. Once they were old enough to go to bed on their own, they began to enjoy the calm in the light time.
Subtract a Minute
Inevitably, my husband and I still get a bedtime staller here or there. This can be so frustrating because the more exhausted they are, the more they seem to stall, creating chaos during a time that should be calm. If this is the case, we begin to take away a minute (or 5) from bedtime the next night. We say things like, “Since you’ve had trouble getting into bed like we asked, you’ll need to go to bed five minutes earlier tomorrow night to make up for the sleep.” It only takes one follow-through to get them to SPRINT to bed the rest of the week. That one minute of extra awake time is somehow essential to their status as a mature kid. By losing it, they must lose playground credibility or something. It works like a charm. We’ve only had to actually follow through with this two or three times in their life times, and it made so that the next night was dreamy for all.
Bedtime is tricky.
My goal each night is that my children go to bed calmly and cooperatively, so that their dreams are peaceful. However, when it becomes a struggle, these tricks have helped me tremendously. What about you?