What is the most challenging part of your day as the parent of a young child? If you said the evening hours, you are not alone. Most parents of young children say that the hours from around 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. can be some of the most challenging. Often children and parents are returning home after a long day of activities that may include, work, school, daycare, and sports. Everyone is tired, hungry and perhaps a bit impatient. And there is still much to be done, including dinner, baths, and hopefully quiet time together. Parents often ask me for help in handling bedtime. They want to be able to enjoy spending time with their children and have the kids in bed on time without tears and tantrums. They want their kids to sleep in their own bed! And they don’t want to have to lie down with them to get them to stay in their beds. While an occasional difficult evening is normal, there are some general guidelines that may make the evening hours easier for everyone in the family.
- First of all establish a nighttime routine that includes everything you want to accomplish during those hours and stick to it. Kids like routine and you can include them in the planning of what that routine will look like. For example, your routine may include dinner, bath, reading together, a song, prayers, hugs and kisses and lights out. Include what is important to your family.
- Make your expectations clear. Discuss the new routine with the child and let them know how the plan will go. Be specific. If you plan to read only one story let them know that ahead of time and stick to it. As in most things related to parenting, consistency is key.
- Put them in their own bed. It’s important for them to learn how to relax and allow themselves to fall asleep in their own space.
- Eliminate all technology at bedtime such as computers, Ipads, video games and television. There’s all kinds of research that supports the idea that the brain stimulation from a screen is problematic for sleep. Do not allow your child to get into the habit of falling asleep with the television on. (In fact, I think televisions should not be in a child’s bedroom, but that’s a discussion for another day!)
- Take care of all their personal needs before they get in bed. No more going to the bathroom or getting water after they’re in bed! In fact, no getting out of bed unless it’s a true emergency. That means no coming back into the family room or the parent’s bedrooms once you’ve said goodnight.
If you’ve been lying with the child until he falls asleep you’ll have a habit to break. Explain to him that he is old enough now to be able to fall asleep without you and that from now on you will leave the room after you’ve said good night. If he is upset, tell him you will come back and check on him every 5 minutes until he falls asleep. When you go back in 5 minutes chances are he will already be asleep! If not, just stand in the doorway briefly and tell him good night again and return every 5 mins until he is asleep. You can gradually increase to every 10 minutes if necessary. Do not stay long and do not lie down with him.
If your child continues to get up out of bed and leave her room, calmly walk her back to bed with no discussion of whatever it is she is asking for. No more water, or books, or hugs, or whatever. Tell her you will not discuss what ever it is until morning. Remember consistency is key! Soon your evening will run much more smoothly.