Bedtime should be the most relaxing part of your day, but if you have kids, it might be what Jim Gaffigan describes as a hostage situation in reverse: Suddenly, you'll do anything to get those kids into bed and make them stay there.
It's not rocket science or even voodoo. It just takes a little planning and a willingness to take charge of bedtime, firmly but lovingly. Follow these 10 steps to reclaiming bedtime, and those nightly hostage negotiations will be a thing of the past.
1. Stick to a schedule
You don't have to live your life by the clock, but it is important for all children to go to sleep at roughly the same time each day. The same goes for naps and wake-up times. Kids like knowing what the plan is, and a schedule trains their little bodies to know when to sleep.
2. Take care of your child's physical needs before bed
Another key part of the schedule is taking care of their physical needs before you tuck them in bed. We've all had a kid suddenly need to use the bathroom, get a drink, etc. Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack, co-authors of The Sleep Easy Solution suggest stopping the game before it begins by taking care of everything your child could possibly need before bedtime. "This way," they note, "you'll be able to avoid negotiating with your child after lights out - and you'll have the peace of mind to know that all her needs have been addressed."
3. Take care of your child's emotional needs before bed
All too often a child's attempts to stall bedtime are an effort to get more of your attention. If he or she has been trying to get quality time with you all evening and bedtime is the first chance he or she gets you alone, suddenly all his or her neediness will come to the surface. Giving your child plenty of loving attention will help him or her feel secure before it's time to say goodnight.
4. Make your child's room a cozy, inviting place
"Your child's environment plays a very important role in his or her ability to sleep well," say Waldburger and Spivack, and we all want a soothing place to drift off to sleep. Tidy up the room before bed and remove anything that might be too distracting. Darken the room and use a soft nightlight, sound machine and soft bedding that provide the comfort they need to sleep sound and secure.
5. Have a bedtime routine
Kids love a healthy routine and knowing what will come next. A bedtime routine not only helps your child transition from the busy-ness of the day, it will help your child "develop sleep cues so that over time just doing the routine makes your child sleepy," Waldburger and Spivack say.
6. Give your child some choices
At certain points throughout the routine, let your kids make a few choices, like which pajamas they'll wear, which book(s) you'll read or which song you'll sing. Giving your children some measure of control over the bedtime process will weaken their resistance, making them more likely to cooperate and stop making so many contrary demands.
To keep things moving (and to help younger children), it may be best to let them choose between a few options you've preselected rather than giving them free rein. Which brings use to the next point:
7. Set clear rules about bedtime
To keep your nights from spiraling into chaos, you must set boundaries and consequences. Decide as a family what bedtime entails. Clearly lay out what your children may and may not do. Some of those boundaries will be included in the bedtime routine.
For example, if one book and two songs are part of the routine, your kids can't keep asking for more (well, technically they can, but they'll always get the same answer and soon learn that begging is fruitless). Your children also need to know what will happen if they choose to break the rules.
Having a set of rules and a plan in place will not only ensure that your children know what's expected of them, it will help you be firm and calm when rules are inevitably broken.
8. Stick to your guns
Young children figure out the world and their place in it by testing limits. If those limits change each time they push, they'll keep on pushing to see what will happen next. So don't give in to requests for "more."
Hold your children accountable for their actions and follow through with consequences - and don't lose your cool when your kids are testing the boundaries or just plain freaking out. This new nighttime routine will be a change for them and they may be upset at first.
"Once you've explained the rules around bedtime and given your child a nice bedtime routine, she'll feel some frustration as she learns that mommy and daddy will hold to the rules," Waldburger and Spivack say. But, your children will also learn that they can "cope with those limits ... and learn how to become great sleepers."
9. Give yourself a good night's sleep
You've finally ended the hostage situation and taught your kids to be excellent sleepers. Don't you deserve a great night's sleep, too? Make sure your needs are met and your to-do's are taken care of before bed, and adopt your own soothing, tech-free bedtime routine. And don't forget about those comfy sheets. Slipping into a soft, luxurious bed at the end of a long day is the perfect way to let go of your cares and peacefully slip into sweet, sweet slumber.
Visit Cariloha.com to find the perfect bedding to help you sleep well at night and make you feel like you are literally sleeping on clouds.