So, your kid is fighting bedtime. (Or, you’ve found the wrong blog. Oops!) As much as we’d love to say: Don’t stress! We’ve got three easy steps that will put your kid straight to sleep the first time you tuck them in, so you can go and enjoy dinner and quiet and some toy-free couch time!
We can’t. Because kids are kids, and they can be notoriously tricky to put to bed. Even if you have the most wonderful, finely-tuned night-time routine, it’s almost impossible to completely avoid bedtime battles. Lots of it is developmental – once your kid reaches toddler age, they’re outgrowing old routines, testing limits, and seeking independence.
But there are some things you can try. And, tired parents, we’ll be rooting for you when you do.
Create an evening routine.
Kids don’t always love surprises (unless it’s surprise snacks!), but they do love repetition. Which is why evening routines can be so important for little humans. When your child knows what to expect (and what’s expected of them) as they navigate from dinner to bath to bed, they learn to anticipate and trust bedtime. Once you’ve got your routine in place, you might find it’s helpful to create a visual chart showing all the steps. (We made a fun printable one, here!)
Turn screens off.
At night, exposure to blue light from a TV or tablet can play havoc with your kids' circadian rhythms. It can also be really stimulating! If you can, turn screens off an hour before bedtime, and keep the lights dim and the environment relatively quiet.
Don’t spring it on ‘em.
If your kid is busy building a small city out of Duplo, they’re probably not watching the clock to see if it’s getting close to bedtime. So, five or 10 minutes before you want them to wind it up (because it’s time to wind down), try giving them a gentle advance warning that playtime is almost over, by setting up a countdown or visual timer.
Make the transitions fun.
Moving from step-to-step in your routine can attract a little (lot!) of resistance, which is why it can help to make the transitions light and fun. Think: a piggy-back into their room for storytime, a nudie run out of the bathroom for PJs, a race to the toothbrushes and the last one there’s a rotten egg.
Give them (limited) choices.
Kids don’t get a whole lot of choices at bedtime, and it can make them feel powerless. Offering a few choices is a great way to give the littlest family members some agency. Let them choose a pair of pyjamas, a song to play at bathtime, or their own book to read before bed. If you don’t have 9,000 hours to wait while they mull over the Rainbow Fish or the Hungry Caterpillar or the whole Spot series, limit the choices to just two options.
Talk about any fears.
Lots of children will fight going to bed because they’re afraid they’re going to miss out on something exciting! (If only they knew.) But for other kids, there are bigger fears at play. If your kid is frightened of the dark or going to sleep, try not to dismiss their worries. (You’ll find lots of expert tips on that, here.) You might assign a special toy to stand guard overnight, or enlist a certain monster repeller to get rid of unwelcome night-time nuisances.
Find a way to wind down.
Even grown-ups don’t always collapse into bed and immediately fall asleep. Sometimes we need a bit of help – a book to read, a calming playlist, a TikTok to mindlessly scroll… If your kid is having a tough time drifting off, experiment with quiet activities that might help. Things like: a guided meditation, a bedtime story read aloud, a dim night and a toy to play with, or a book they can ‘read’ on their own.
Unfortunate fact: You’ll probably never be able to completely avoid bedtime battles. Toddlers are experts at stalling – just one more book, hug, drink, question about the meaning of the universe… And it’s important to remember that you can’t force them to sleep. The best you can do is set them up for a great snooze, hopefully with fewer fights and more moments of connection.