For many families, bedtime is the worst part of the day! Trying to get everyone settled down and accomplish all the nighttime tasks, just when parents may be at their most exhausted can make for a very challenging time. But bedtime doesn’t have to be a battle, here are some ideas for ways to ease the trying times when it comes time to get some sleep…
One thing to keep in mind is that everyone has different sleep cycles and sleep needs – even children. One child may truly need 10 hours of sleep at night, plus a nice long afternoon nap, while another will give up his naps as a young toddler and develop into quite the night-owl. Also, children’s sleep needs and cycles will change and vary – depending on whether they are going through a growth spurt, have increased their daytime activities, or for other reasons. As you take stock of what’s going on in your household at bedtime, it may help to evaluate what sort of “sleepers” you have under your roof. Sometimes, bedtime becomes a battle because children are either overtired (the bedtime is too late) or they are just aren’t sleepy yet – so thinking about the various sleep needs and styles in your family will be helpful.
The best advice I ever received about bedtime routine was from a relaxed pediatrician who said to just “keep everyone moving in one direction.” she went on to explain by this that she meant that bedtime rituals should be moving your child toward his bed and sleep. For example, the first step is to put away toys and prepare to go upstairs. If there is a snack at bedtime, it should happen before your child leaves the living area or goes upstairs. Once upstairs, bath time, teeth brushing, putting on pajamas, – all those ordinary bedtime routines take place. She suggested that it creates opportunity for difficulties if children go up to take a bath and then come back downstairs for stories and a snack. By creating a momentum in one direction, the child will begin to feel like he is definitely moving toward bedtime. Once in bed, that should be it. While reading stories in bed is a fine way to end the evening – it should be in your child’s bed – not in another space that she will then have to get up and move into bed (unless it’s a rocking chair or soft spot in her own room.)
If possible, children with varying bedtimes should not share a room. If this isn’t possible, there should be enough time lapse between bedtimes to allow the child with the earliest a bedtime ample time to settle in and drift off before the other child comes to bed. As children age, it may take some creativity to decide who rooms with whom. Night owls together? A balance between early sleepers and late sleepers? Of course, it will also depend on how heavy of a sleeper each child is.
One of the major problems parents face is that with long days and limited opportunity for family time, the evening hours stretch and children become overtired. This actually makes it more difficult to get many children settled into bed. If this is happening at your house, try moving bedtime up and see if things settle down in a week or two. You may find that all you needed to do was get kids to bed earlier.
Another problem that develops is difficulty staying asleep – a child may experience bad dreams, night terrors or sleep walking. When this happens, try to avoid removing the child from his or her bed. Instead, a parent should go to the child to comfort him, or if he is sleepwalking, help him back to his own bed and stay with him until he has resettled. If you have a “wanderer” in your family (and I did!) you may find him sleeping on the couch or the floor in another room when you rise in the morning. I dealt with it by making sure my house was well safety-proofed and choosing not to make a big deal of it. If I got up and found him sleeping around the house, I’d simply pick him up and carry him back to his bed. To this day, my high-school-age son does not seem to need as much sleep as his sisters or his mom – he’ll finally fall asleep at midnight or one and still be up and off to school by 7:30am. Now, he truly is a wanderer, but he’s learned how to be quiet and considerate when he’s up having his midnight snack when the rest of the house is snoozing.
Bedtime doesn’t have to be a battle, it can be a relaxing, winding down at the end of a busy day. It may help you to keep in mind that you are nearly done…you’re in the homestretch. And, speaking as a mom who misses those cuddly bedtime routines with story books and freshly scrubbed preschoolers, try to enjoy the bedtime rituals while you can. If you’re able to get things into a manageable groove, bedtime can turn into a great time!