Whether children should be allowed to sleep in bed with their parents or in their own is a personal choice for the adults involved. I can quote experts and present evidence-based data to support both sides of this discussion. This article offers suggestions for those parents who have decided not to practice family bed sharing and who need help in getting the kids to their own beds and remain there.
Bedtime can be a very stressful time of day for families. Parents and children come together after a tiring day of work or school and yearn to reconnect with each other. While parents do want that reconnection, they also see an evening full of tasks that must be attended to before they can truly unwind and relax. But with all those dinner, homework and cleanup tasks that must be accomplished, it becomes difficult to allow that reconnection to occur as it should. Oftentimes, the children feel frustrated, sensing that their caregivers aren’t there 100%, so they express the frustration even further through misbehavior and a lack of cooperation.
When bedtime arrives, it can take an hour or more just to get the kids into bed and to remain there. By the time they do, parents are exhausted and dreading having to do it all again tomorrow night. Keep in mind that children don’t like to go to bed because it means the end to their day and more importantly, the end to their time with parents. They also seem to have this sense that a party begins once they are put to bed and don’t want to miss out, so they will do whatever they can to delay it. To help with this process, here are 10 things parents can do to make bedtime work more effectively.
6 PREPARATION STEPS FOR THE NEW BEDTIME
• Allow your child to find some way of personalizing her room. From picking out a new lamp shade to an entirely new paint scheme, letting her be as creative as possible will help her feel as though the room really belongs to her.
• Keep bedtime consistent and on time. Determine what bedtime will be going forward and announce it to the children. If an event or activity causes a late night, don’t let the plan fall apart. Reinforce the boundary the following evening and keep moving forward.
• Create a checklist of all bedtime activities that must be completed in the half hour or hour prior to bedtime. Allow them to help you make the list and then post it for all to see. For toddlers and preschoolers, create large drawings or cutouts to represent each activity and tape them at the child’s eye level on a wall in sequence.
• Minimize the amount of toys kept in the children’s bedroom. They are able to fall asleep best when there are few distractions in their rooms.
• Avoid allowing your children to have entertainment electronics such as televisions, DVD players, computers, or video games in their bedrooms.
• Purchase a visual timer to manage the schedule of bedtime activities.
4 STEPS FOR IMPLEMENTING THE NEW PROCESS
• On the day you decide to begin the new process for bedtime, make an official announcement that you’re going to do some different things at bedtime tonight. Be sure to get to the kids eye level and use an exciting tone of voice when announcing the change. Say to them, “Starting tonight, once you’re ready for bed and I have tucked you in, I can’t speak to or look at you until morning.” For younger children, role-play what it will look and feel like. It could frighten them if you suddenly stopped talking. Recreate bedtime with them so they will be prepared with having you not speaking or looking at them.
• Explain to the children that getting into bed on time and staying there is part of cooperation; the more they cooperate with you, the more likely you are to cooperate with them. Express to them that you are so excited that they are going to cooperate with you.
• Take cooperation one step further by asking for each child’s agreement to stay in bed. Ask her to repeat the agreement and then excitedly thank her for cooperating with you.
• Thirty to sixty minutes prior to the official bedtime, announce that getting ready for bedtime has now begun. Bring out the visual timer, set it, and end all stimulating activities, including television and rough play. Make all the bedtime activities, such as brushing teeth, potty, and getting into PJs fun by being playful with them. Children love competition and races, so consider “racing against the clock” with the visual timer to get all the activities completed in time.
Finally, tuck the children into bed with your traditional routines and commit to not using your voice or eye contact until morning. Now here comes the fun part… if they get out of bed, lead them back by placing your hand on their back and guiding them lovingly to their bed without speaking to them or looking at them. Do this as many times as necessary. By doing this, you are communicating to them that you are following through with your original intentions and they will respect you for it all the more. If your child calls out to you and you are sure it is not an emergency, ignore the calls for more water or stories. It is all a tactic to prolong having to go to sleep. If your child becomes uncooperative and collapses on the floor, gently pick him up and bring him to his bed. Do all of this without speaking to him or looking at him, and avoid having any expression on your face. Looks of frustration or anger may delight him and motivate him to keep up the battle. Start this new process on a night when you can stay up a little later, as you may have to make quite a few trips on the first night of this new process. If there are two caregivers in your home, both should be ready to behave the same way and carry out these new procedures. Here is your opportunity to show your child what firm and kind looks like. Good luck and stick with it!
Bill Corbett is the author of the award winning book “Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids” in English and in Spanish, and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids. He has three grown children, three step children, two grandchildren, and lives with his wife Elizabeth near Hartford, CT. You can visit his Web site www.CooperativeKids.com for further information and parenting advice.