This is a collaborative post.
It’s 7:30 pm, and the kids are in bed, finally. You settle in on the couch to finally catch up on the three episodes of This Is Us filling the DVR, when the call comes down the hallway: “Muuuuuum, I can’t sleep.”
If there is one thing that almost every parent has to deal with at some point, it’s the struggle to get kids to sleep. Whether it’s due to separation anxiety, a fear of the dark, or just plain the Fear Of Missing Out (they just know you’re doing something totally interesting once they are in bed!), it can be hard for kids to go to sleep. And given that kids need more sleep than adults to support their growing minds and bodies, it’s frustrating when they just won’t go to bed. How on earth do you encourage your child to go to sleep?
Reluctant sleepers don’t have to disrupt the whole house, though — or keep you from having a few glorious hours of downtime before you head to bed yourself.
However, with a few adjustments to your routine, some clever incentives, and patience, you can make bedtime a pleasant experience and make sure everyone gets plenty of rest.
5 Tips to Make Bedtime Easier
Have a bedtime routine
Kids thrive on structure. Knowing what’s coming next helps them feel safer and more secure — and a bedtime routine can trigger associations with sleep that help them stay in bed and fall asleep faster. Establishing an effective routine begins with understanding the recommendations for average sleep by age.
From the time they are toddlers until they are 12 years old, kids need up to 12 hours of sleep per day, including naps. School age kids (ages 6-12) should be getting 10-12 hours per night, for instance, but the majority are getting less.
When you know how much sleep your child needs (ask you pediatrician for guidance) you can plan a bedtime routine that starts about 30 minutes before lights out. This might include a bath, some reading time, and some snuggles and goodnight kisses. However you decide to structure your routine, be consistent when trying to encourage your child to go to sleep.
It might take a few weeks, but eventually, your kids will adjust and begin to associate bath time and snuggle with bedtime, and be more willing to at least get into bed.
Ditch the Electronics
You might like to check out celebrities’ vacations on Instagram or pin recipes you’ll never make on Pinterest before bed, but electronics are proven to disrupt sleep — for both adults AND kids. This means that if you want a relaxing, peaceful bedtime, you need to turn off the TV, video games, or other devices at least an hour before bedtime.
Not only will the kids be less likely to get hyped up on a “Peppa Pig” marathon, but they won’t be kept awake by the stimulating blue light that comes from the devices. This also means removing TVs and computers from the kids’ rooms. This way they won’t be tempted to fall asleep with them on, or sneak a little extra YouTube time when you leave the room.
Healthy Habits = Healthy Sleep
Just like adults, kids need to exercise and avoid caffeine and sugar if they want to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Chances are you’re not serving your preschooler espresso after dinner, but watch out for excess sugar too. Food and drinks with excess sugar within three hours of bedtime can keep them up, so stick to water or milk instead. These will help encourage your child to go to sleep.
Eating a meal right before bed can also keep them awake, so plan dinner a few hours before bedtime if you can, and if they are still hungry, offer a light snack of cheese and crackers or some raw veggies.
Exercise is also a key to getting enough sleep, even for kids. They need to burn off that energy and tire themselves out. Try taking a walk as a family after dinner, and encourage the kids to race or twirl or whatever it is they need to do to get the wiggles out. Or have a family dance party while you make dinner.
Anything you need to do to get them moving and active can help — but just not too close to bedtime. Letting the kids jump around while you’re trying to get them to bed is only going to rile them up more and make it harder for them to settle (ahem, Dad).
No, we’re not suggesting bribing your kids — although you might be tempted to promise a new Xbox if he would just go to sleep. Making promises under duress like that can backfire big time, since not only does it create a sense of entitlement to rewards for doing something that’s expected, it’s eventually going to be impossible for you to raise the stakes high enough to get your kids to do anything.
Rewards, on the other hand, are more like a paycheck: a payoff for meeting expectations. When you show up to work every day and do your work the way your boss expects you to, you earn your pay. It’s the same with your kids. If you establish expectations for their behavior (“you will go to bed and stay in your bed”) and a reward (“If you go to bed without arguing all week, we’ll get an ice cream on Saturday) then they have a concrete incentive to do what you ask of them.
Try keeping track of their behaviour with a rewards chart; seeing their progress toward rewards can be very motivating, and help them stay on track.
Don’t Focus on Sleep
Yes, you want your child to go to sleep, like an hour ago. But for some kids, it can be a struggle to turn off their brains and fall asleep, especially once they hit school age and the tween years. Losing your cool and insisting that they go to sleep, or focusing on how tired they are or will be the next day, will only create anxiety. Shift the focus to calming down and relaxing. Some kids might just need a little extra time to chill out enough so they can fall asleep.
If your kid seems unable to unwind, try adjusting their bedroom to make it more calming. A white noise machine, some calming aromatherapy, and slow transition into sleep might be what it takes to get your reluctant sleeper off to dreamland.
If your child refuses to go to bed no matter what you try, talk with the doctor and watch for signs of sleep disorders. There may be something else going on that needs treatment. Otherwise, try these tips and get back to your DVR sooner — if you don’t fall asleep yourself first.
We hope this guide on how to encourage your child to go to sleep is helpful. We do have some other great resources both for Reward Charts and sleep on KiddyCharts, so do take a look:
- If you aren’t sure that rewards to give your kids – why not get some advise from them? My daughter has some wonderful ideas for rewards,
- Have a positive bedtime routine is also a great idea, so why not try this one?
- Finally, it helps to have a good story book before bed – so why not try these fabulous bedtime stories?
We hope this was fun – it was for us, so come back again soon.