The half-term holidays are in full swing, and parents have likely relaxed their expectations for children’s bedtimes without realising how this can affect their routines after school resumes.
For most kids, sleep disruption during school breaks is unfortunately inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t counteract its negative consequences.
With this in mind, leading sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock at Bensons for Beds has provided her top advice for preventing bedtime battles and restoring routines in families.
While no answer will fit every family, one of these tips will do the trick.
If bedtime feels like a fight, it’s time to take action. It’s entirely normal for children to resist bedtime. Surveys suggest that around one in three preschools and one in eight school-aged children resist going to bed.
There are many different ways that even the most angelic child may make bedtime hard work
- Stalling: insisting on just one more story, five minutes more TV, or one more game.
- Point blank refusal: the ‘digging heels in’ approach might mean not changing into pyjamas, brushing teeth, or even entering the bedroom.
- Refusing to sleep in their bed: sneaking into your room or a sibling’s room to sleep.
- Getting up repeatedly: getting up after lights out for a drink, a snack, to turn the lights on or off.. or any other excuse they can think of to avoid going to sleep.
Why do bedtime battles occur?
Any parent of multiple children will know that temperament has much to do with it. The same parenting approach might lead to one sibling taking themselves to bed while the other wants to assert independence and test boundaries. If one parent is lenient about bedtimes and routines, the child may spot an opportunity to exploit the inconsistencies.
When young children are overtired, they often become wound up and over-excited. If you think this might be the case, experiment with bringing the bedtime routine forward by 15 minutes at a time. It could alternatively be the case that your child’s internal clock isn’t ready for sleep. If they are not tired, you must transition to a later bedtime.
You might find that you had a great bedtime routine, but suddenly, it starts to fall apart. This might be a phase they are going through. It could be triggered by some insecurity or a change in their routines. Look out for increased fear of being alone or being scared of the dark, which will necessitate extra reassurance.
Family tension, for example, between parents or conflict between an older sibling and their parents, can also have knock-on effects on younger children. If they feel unsettled or anxious, they will find it harder to transition into the mindset of sleep.
How can you create an enjoyable bedtime experience?
Bedtime can be a positive bonding experience for parents and their children when it goes well. How you feel about bedtime may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.. If you are anxious and irritable (because of lack of sleep!), your child will likely pick up on the tension and take longer to settle.
For this reason, try and design a bedtime routine which includes something you both enjoy. This might not be something traditionally done at bedtime, such as 5 minutes of playing lego or practising a magic trick before lights out. Still, the whole routine will become easier if you both look forward to this time together.
Make a plan for the bedtime routine that everyone knows
Devise a bedtime routine which you can repeat consistently. It should include calm and enjoyable activities like baths and bedtime stories. Talk this through with your child and let them know what you expect. Encourage your child to make or decorate a chart of the activities which you can tick off when introducing a new routine. A visual chart will mean that if you go out, your babysitter can stick to the same routine.
If the last part of the routine is something you enjoy, this gives the incentive to get through teeth brushing and getting ready for bed. Of course, it won’t be possible to do everything every night, but the more consistent you are, the fewer small deviations will make a difference
Set a bedtime, and give frequent reminders
Agree on bedtime, which is appropriate for your child, and work out when you need to start the bedtime routine to allow enough time. Give your child a warning and tell them what will happen: “10 more minutes, and then it’s bath time”. “Five more minutes, then it’s time to brush your teeth”. This sets expectations.
Consistency will win
No matter what they might tell you, children benefit from structure and boundaries. If you say no to a later bedtime on four occasions but give in on the 5th, they will keep asking and testing your limits. Your patience will help them to learn self-control.
When it comes to lights out, a familiar blanket, doll or cuddly toy can help with the confidence to fall asleep by themselves.
Avoid arguments by ignoring complaints and staying calm
It takes two to argue. Try to be firm and continue with the routine despite possible protests. Ignore negative comments. Try not to ask questions where you want to give instructions, such as “Time for bed” rather than “Ready for bed?”.
However, you could provide acceptable alternatives, such as, “Do you want to go up now or in five minutes?” Focus on increasing good behaviours rather than punishing bad ones.
When the bedtime routine is complete, ensure they feel safe and cared for, and leave the room. Leaving the room while your child is still awake will help them learn to fall asleep alone. If they are reluctant to let you leave, check in frequently to reassure them, but make the visits brief and boring.
Making being awake boring
If your child insists on getting out of bed, consistently return them calmly to bed. This may happen a few times. When they get out of bed, make the interactions brief and uninteresting – you don’t want to reward them with attention for getting out of bed. Check in on them when they have returned to bed, and positively encourage them if they stay in bed.
Reward your child, and reinforce good behaviour
In the morning, review the bedtime routine from the night before and give praise, stickers, or points for good behaviour. When you introduce a new routine, the rewards will probably need immediate rewards to get their interest. Once the routine is established, you could reward multiple good nights per week.
Do not penalise them for poor behaviour, but focus on the positives as much as possible.
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