Around the time my youngest turned two, he became difficult to put to bed. I would start his routine with a bath, then dress him in his pajamas, read him a story or two, and then cuddle for a bit. After a few minutes, however, he would jump out of bed and run downstairs. My husband or I would grab him and bring him back up, but inevitably he’d bolt again. It didn’t matter if one of us was in the room, he didn’t want to be there.
We tried leaving him in the room, but he would keep coming out. more agitated each time.
Eventually, we would just give up, and let our son play downstairs. Mind you this was already well past 9 p.m., and eating into our chill time. Aside from the obvious reasons to get our kids to bed early, my husband and I were missing out on our time together.
You might be thinking, maybe you are putting him to bed too early? Maybe he just isn’t ready for bed before 10 p.m.?
Most toddlers need to be in bed well before 10, and mine is no exception. The day after a late bedtime, my child was cranky and miserable, until he inevitably crashed late in the afternoon, when even just a 30 minute nap would push his bedtime back by hours. It was a horrible cycle.
I had to get bedtime back on track.
A good night’s rest starts long before your kids’ head hits the pillow. In our house, this means shutting down the T.V. and other screens before our kids go up to bed. Ideally, we start our routine around 7 p.m., which means everything is off by 6:30 or earlier. During the school week, however, screen-time after 4:30 is a rarity, so it’s not such a shock when bedtime rolls around.
A good night’s rest starts long before your kid’s head hits the pillow.
Our bedtime routine begins with a bath. My oldest is good at knowing it is a reasonable time to come out, so we usually don’t have to coax our kids out when it’s time to move on to tooth brushing. After teeth are brushed, my husband and I split up, with him tending to my oldest, and me the youngest.
At this point, this was, usually, when things would start to go south. However, I realized my child was playing with us, and I didn’t have to play his game. I stopped chasing him down the stairs. We made sure the house was quiet and dark, and well, boring. He soon realized there was nothing for him there.
I succeeded in getting my son to stay in his room. For a while, I was OK with that, even if it meant him playing and not going to sleep. However, he still was exhausted during the day, and needed to get to bed earlier.
I thought, if I could get him to stay in bed longer, maybe he would learn to fall asleep. So, I added more stories to our routine. I found he loves being read to, and has the stamina for long picture books. I would guess, I spend about 15 minutes, at least, reading to him each night.
When the last book was finished, I told him it was time to snuggle. Then I would lay with him for another 15 minutes or so, until he settled down. If you are doing the math, you might notice that our routine is taking a very long time. And you would be right. When I finally leave the room, most nights, it is past 8 p.m.
An hour-long bedtime might seem like a lot, but it works for our family. I learned both of our children need a lot of time to settle down. And, while this does take up a good portion of our evening, we were able to salvage some semblance of quiet time together.
An hour-long bedtime might seem like a lot, but it works for our family.
Unsurprisingly, once my youngest settled into a consistent bedtime routine, his mood changed for the better. He was back to being the pleasant child, I had always loved. Of course, he is too, so he has his tantrums, but they were fewer and shorter. He was also less clingy and played peacefully on his own throughout the day.
I did my best to cut out the naps, thinking it would help ensure a smooth bedtime routine. On most days, I was successful, with my son not needing them after getting about 11 hours of sleep each night. However, some days, he really did need them. What I found though, was even with a long nap, because he had become so accustomed to his schedule, I was still able to get him to sleep before 9.
While every family, is different, I think the lessons I learned from our own bedtime struggles could be helpful.
- Put the kids to bed early: For most kids under the age of five, this means they are asleep by 8 p.m., even earlier for the littler ones. This chart is a good guide.
- Set the mood for sleep: Turn off electronic devices and dim the lights. Make the house quiet and boring so the kids know sleep time is coming.
- Give your kids enough time to settle down: Because it takes my toddler a while to be ready for sleep, I know we need to start our routine around 7, or earlier to have him asleep by 8.
- Be firm and consistent: My toddler didn’t like having nobody to play with him at 9:30 p.m., and eventually he learned he needed to go to bed. He also knew I would stay with him and help him settle down.
Sleep is a work-in-progress in our home. Getting my kids to stay in their beds all night is a whole other blog post. For now, I am happy bedtime, at least, is going smoothly, and our kids are well rested.