Does your toddler or preschooler stall bedtime with “just one more [glass of water, book, kiss, etc.]” requests? Once you have entered the land of “just one more” it can be hard to leave, as you tend to get in deeper and deeper each time you give in. The result is later bedtimes, overtired kids and frustrated parents.
Here are six tips for getting bedtime back on track:
1. Start your bedtime routine a bit earlier. While two to four year olds can be difficult to reason with, an overtired kid is likely beyond negotiation. Start the bedtime process early enough so your child can be asleep before over-tiredness (and a bigger struggle) can set in. Many parents define their child’s bedtime as the time they get into bed, but bedtime actually is the time they fall asleep. So if you know your child needs to be asleep by 7pm, start your routine so that you can tuck them into bed by 6:45pm. The earlier you start, the less of a production bedtime will be.
2. Ensure that daytime sleep is conducive to your child’s sleep needs. A daily nap serves an important role in your child’s nighttime sleep as it allows them to fall asleep in a rested state - the state that is necessary for a good night’s sleep. While toddlers and preschoolers need a daily nap, if your child is fighting bedtime, evaluate their daytime sleep. To be most restorative, naptime should begin at about 1pm every day, as this is the timing that corresponds with their circadian rhythm (internal body clock). As a child nears age three, I sometimes see that it is necessary to cap their nap and wake them by 3 to 3:30pm to preserve an easy bedtime.
3. Explain why sleep is important. Kids this age love to ask, “Why?” Use that curiosity as an opportunity to explain why sleep is so important! For example, explain that sleep allows our body to stay healthy. Compare sleep to food (our body needs healthy food to run and it also needs healthy sleep to learn and to grow). Explain that sleep gives us the energy to do fun things (park, soccer, swimming, dance, gymnastics, etc.). After a few improved days of bedtime routine, plan a fun outing and explain that you are doing it because everyone is well rested. If your child likes reading, read books about sleep. Some of my favorites include, Things I Love About Bedtime, Why I Love Bedtime and When It’s Time for Bed, I Have a Plan.
4. Set rules and boundaries clearly. Rules make kids feel safe. Kids will challenge rules, but they count on us to tell them right from wrong, safe from unsafe, etc., and push rule boundaries to ensure you are there to reassure and correct them. Set rules and boundaries around sleep. For example, create a poster that lays out bedtime routine expectations (e.g. bath, pajamas, two books, a sip of water, one song, one big hug, two kisses, sleep until morning). Have your child decorate the poster, and read the sign together each night to solidify the routine. Note that this is a rules, not a rewards, chart. Kids shouldn’t be rewarded with prizes for following everyday rules; the reward will be feeling great the next morning!
5. Give them a say. A big part of “just one more” behavior stems from your toddler or preschooler wanting to exert their independence. Give them a say in the process to help them feel involved and empowered. Let them choose their jammies and which stuffed animals to sleep with. Allow them to make decisions when it comes to their own behavior. As odd as this sounds, giving them permission to exhibit behaviors you actually don’t want (such as crying), will help these behaviors go away, simply because they have a choice in the matter. If you say, “It’s bedtime, please don’t cry,” they may cry only because you told them not to and it’s their job at this age to be contrary. Instead, say, “It’s bedtime. You can choose to cry or not to cry but either way, it is time for you to go to sleep." Sounds odd, I know, but it works!
6. Be consistent. This final step is key! You must consistently enforce whatever rules you create, so your kids know exactly what is expected. If you allow your kids to break the rules, even once, they will know now that if they push and push they may get their way. So be consistent. Remember that these rules are in place for a reason - to make sure everyone is easily drifting off to sleep on time and getting the sleep they need!
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