Now for the good news: there is! As a Certified Sleep Consultant, I often work with families who face huge bedtime battles, at times lasting for hours, causing anger and frustration, a lot of tears, and sometimes even children running around the house while tired parents try to catch them. No one is winning these battles. With a few very simple tools, we’re able to establish a calm, peaceful bedtime for the family.
You’re the best!!
The most important thing to remember is, our kids want our love!! They want nothing more than to spend time with us and any battles that ensue are attempts to gain the attention that they desperately crave. Let’s be honest, there could be an additional 10 hours in every day and our kids would still want to spend every free waking minute with us (and perhaps sleeping minutes too, but that’s a topic for another article!). One of the keys to a calm bedtime is to make sure you’re giving your children the attention they’re looking for in the hour leading up to bedtime. Do everything in your power to have your bedtime routine be calm, quiet and loving. Have lots of cuddle time as you read books and re-cap your days. Spending a few extra minutes BEFORE bedtime can save many minutes AFTER bedtime!
Containing your Jack-in-the Box
Regardless of how lovely your bedtime is, some kids will still test their limits after you put them to bed. Sleep Consultants often refer to them as a Jack-in-the-Box. Every time you tuck your son or daughter into bed, it just seconds before POP, out they come again.
It’s my opinion that it’s ok to need something after you go to bed. Your child may legitimately need another trip to the bathroom or be worried about a shadow on the wall. We should respect them and give them the flexibility to express their needs, but within set limits. Children require concrete limits to know where they stand. Anything wishy-washy with too much talk and not enough action will quickly backfire, as kids realize they’re really the ones in control.
My favorite tool is to have my clients give their children 2 coins before bed (if you don’t like the idea of money, it can be 2 of anything small, like 2 stickers, or 2 legos). If the child needs “something”, they must turn in one of their coins and in return, they’ll have their request met. (Let it be known that the coins are to be used only at bedtime, not in the middle of the night. It is unlikely that a child who regularly sleeps through the night will suddenly start waking, but if the attempt is made, silently walk them back to bed.) If they don’t use their coins, they can keep them (for children Kindergarten age and up, you can use this as an opportunity to teach about money; younger children just get a thrill out of putting a penny in their piggy bank). Once the 2 coins have been turned in, they’re done, and so are you. Any further requests should not be answered, and if children come out of their room, parents are instructed to silently return them to bed and leave. No conversation. No more hugs. Even if there are a few tears.
The key to success: Consistency!
The most important aspect of this plan is that you follow it strictly. Any deviation will show children that their coins have no value, and neither does your word. Our kids are smarter than we give them credit for! They’re going to try to push your limits; they may ask for extra coins or promise you that their one additional request is AN EMERGENCY! It’s not. Actions speak louder than words. Hold your ground. They had their 2 chances. In a few days they’ll also realize that two is more than enough, and they may even decide to start saving those coins! Then you can go pour a glass of wine and enjoy some well deserved peace and quiet!
Lauren studied under Deborah Pedrick, a pioneer in the field and founder of the Family Sleep Institute (FSI) and International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. She is thrilled to be able to educate families on the importance of sleep and to empower parents with the knowledge and ability to teach their kids to love sleep as much as her girls do!