Taming the Bedtime Dragon

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By Dawn L. Tedrow, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Does your child refuse to go to bed on time? My children are grown now, but I remember arguments and crying when it was time for them to shut the lights off and go to sleep. I tried several techniques over the years from letting them run around the house to “burn off energy,” to providing a bedtime snack while watching a favorite cartoon until they fell asleep.

These methods didn’t work. Little did I know that I was over-stimulating their brains and prolonging the amount of time it took for them to fall asleep. We live and learn. Now I am passing along some helpful, effective tips to parents and caregivers who are struggling to tame the “bedtime dragon.”

First, decide on a bedtime and stick to it. If you plan to have them in bed and the lights out at 8:00pm, then you want to begin winding down about 2 hours earlier (6:00pm). I know it seems like a long time, but trust me, it will make adjusting to a new bedtime routine so much easier and less stressful in the long run.

Depending on the age of your children, this could cause some arguing in the beginning. However, things will settle down after a few days of staying in a routine. Simply state that all electronics are to be turned off at 6:00pm. No video games, tv, or anything. We are giving our brains a break.

This is the perfect time to start taking baths and brushing teeth. Lay out clothes and backpacks for school the next day. Begin turning off lights around the home or dimming them and keeping voices calm. About an hour before bedtime, you can turn on some calming music. Classical music at low volume is a great option. Encourage your child to use their “walking feet” to reduce bursts of energy and running around the house.

When everyone has taken their baths, brushed their teeth, and prepared clothes and backpacks for the next morning, it’s time to read. Allow your child to lay in bed and look at a book or read to them as they settle in for the night. All books should be put away and lights should be out by 8:00pm. 

If they get out of bed, then quietly guide them back to bed. It will take a little while for this new routine to begin working, but things will get easier and less stressful. If your child has difficulty turning off electronics at the designated time, they might benefit from a visual timer that begins about 10 minutes earlier. This will help them prepare for putting things away without a tantrum.

Although bedtime can be a challenge for parents, prioritizing sleep is essential to your child’s physical and mental health. Instilling positive bedtime routines early in life will help your child develop a healthier relationship with sleep as they grow into young adults.