Atara Malach M.A., PCC

Motherhood Without Guilt

Is Your Child's Bedtime a Nightmare for You?

Creating a routine to win the bedtime battle.

Posted Jul 24, 2019

Source: iStock/czarny_bez

Have you ever thought about the important role that family routine can play in your busy life? Perhaps you are so overwhelmed that you haven’t even found the time to do so?

However, instead of just merely trying to get through each day on autopilot, you will discover that setting up sensible and effective routines will help establish some measure of orderliness and cut down on the chaos and confusion that is so much a part of a working mother’s life.

The goal should be to achieve a comfortable compromise between the confusion and disorder that can reign without effective routines and the rigidity and resentment that can come with too much regimentation and structure. After all, being a member of a family should not be like being in the army.

Let's look at one common problem that I find many of my clients struggle with and that a routine might help to resolve how to get your child to settle down for the night. For many parents, especially exhausted working moms, it’s a nightly challenge to get your kid to go to bed and to stay there. Here’s a scenario:

Cindy was finding it difficult, frustrating, and exhausting to deal with the drawn-out negotiations of getting her 9-year-old to settle down to sleep. He had learned that by taking charge of the show, he could significantly delay the time when he was expected to snuggle down and go off to dreamland. One ploy was to repeatedly get out of bed and switch his stuffed critters around on his bed because he couldn’t find exactly the right combination to make him sleepy. Or, he desperately needed the answers to questions that would keep him awake if he had to wait until morning.

Cindy came up with an innovative solution: She allowed him to choose different stuffed animals to take to bed with him each night, but the number had to be restricted to three, and he was only allowed to change his mind once. Question time was turned into a game where he was allowed to ask one question only. He could also choose a story or one chapter, but not an entire book. This way, Cindy managed to get bedtime down to approximately 30 minutes. She allowed her son some flexibility within the bedtime routine, while at the same time keeping things under her control.

The Importance of Sleep

One of the main reasons to strive to succeed in the bedtime battle (besides the fact that it's a miserable end to the day when you don’t yet have it down to a science) is that it’s essential for children to get enough sleep, and the younger the child, the more sleep they need.

For instance, research has shown that preschoolers (ages 3-5) require 10-13 hours of sleep a day, and school-age children (ages 6-13) require 9-11 hours a day. Without sufficient sleep, children may have a difficult time controlling their emotions, and they may be hyperactive or irritable, which is no fun for anyone, especially working moms who are often surviving on hardly enough sleep themselves.  

Consistently sleep-deprived kids are more likely to have trouble paying attention, become overweight, or have behavior or learning problems. So although it’s not easy to implement, it’s important to do all you can to help your child get to bed at a reasonable hour, stay there, and get the sleep they need.

Bedtime Rituals

Regular bedtime rituals can play a major role in helping kids get the sound sleep they need to function at their best. A good bedtime routine can help your child fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested and refreshed. It will also help you end the day in a peaceful and systematic manner.

And, this will make you feel less guilty for ending a day with threats or raised voices and instead you will feel more connected and loving to your newly cooperative child before you kiss them goodnight. Every child is different, so you need to build a routine that works for your family — and stick with it. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Make sleep a family priority. Monday through Friday, set regular go-to-bed and wake-up times for the entire family and try to follow them consistently. These rules can be relaxed on weekends and vacations to let everyone enjoy a less scheduled experience.
  • Work as a team. Agree on a bedtime strategy for your child with your partner and work together to carry it out consistently. If the two of you are on different planets over getting your child into bed, your child will play one of you off against the other, which will only exacerbate an already tense situation.
  • Create the right ambience. Make sure your child’s bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Many children are afraid of a totally dark room, so a small night light is fine. Or, you can leave the hall light on and the door to the bedroom slightly ajar. Your child won’t stay in bed if they think a boogie man is hiding under it, so if they are still young enough to be calmed by this, make it part of the routine to look under the bed and in the closet to reassure them that there’s no one there.

One Last Thing

Have you experienced the one last thing syndrome? When you are trying to get your kid into bed, they will always ask for that one last thing – it may be a hug, a trip to the bathroom, a drink of water, or just one more story pleeeeeease!  It’s best to head off these requests at the pass by incorporating them into the bedtime routine.

Make your child understand that once they are in bed, they have to stay in bed. If they get up, simply take them by the hand and walk them back. If you argue about it or give in to the "one last thing" request (that you haven’t anticipated), you’re providing the extra attention and delayed bedtime that the child wants. If you give in to the "one last thing just this one last time," the bedtime routine you’re trying so valiantly to establish will have come undone. If you do want to incorporate this “one last thing” into your bedtime routine, you can allow them to choose one one-last-thing and be done with it.

The Value of a Bedtime Routine

Once you have a bedtime routine established, you’ll enjoy the relief of feeling less guilty about getting irritated with your kids when they just won’t settle down. Without routines (including at bedtime), a young child is apt to have difficulty adhering to rules and regulations required of them in school and other areas of life.

As your child becomes older, you can encourage more independence and let them take more responsibility for their schedules. This will encourage and enhance self-reliance. Every family needs routines to help organize family life and to keep things from becoming too chaotic. So, help your children to thrive with bedtime routines that are streamlined, predictable, and consistent. By ending the day on a positive note, you will be able to gather the strength you need the face the next day as a successful working mom. Learn to utilize your bedtime routine to create sweet dreams.