Ask any parent for whom toddler bedtime is a breeze and they’ll tell you the same thing: A bedtime routine is essential for getting your little one to wind down. Kids love routine – it’s reassuring and reinforcing for them to know what comes next. You might notice that just starting your bedtime ritual will cause even your very active children’s eyelids to droop.
Here is a typical bedtime routine that helps children – from babies to big kids – settle down for the night:
- Warm bath or washing up
- Brushing teeth
- Picking out pyjamas
- Choosing a book for reading aloud
- Lights out
- Favourite bedtime song or lullaby (or try Lights Out Kids | The Bedtime Story Podcast!)
- Goodnight kiss
But what if your child gets out of bed after the bedtime routine is over? How do you get them back where they belong without tears or threats?
This is where a little dash of behavioural know-how comes in handy. “Negative feedback” such as scolding or punishment could spike a child’s adrenalin – having the opposite effect to that you intended. Feedback that the child will interpret as “positive,” such as relenting and letting her have “just a few more minutes” will cause the problem to recur indefinitely.
The key here is neutral feedback and consistency. Quickly, gently and firmly take the child’s hand and escort her back to bed, with minimal conversation or interaction: “Susie, bedtime is bedtime. Let’s go. I will see you in the morning.” You might need to do this several times in one evening, but eventually your toddler will get bored with the game. As with most areas where discipline is necessary, in the absence of a reward the behavior will eventually fizzle out.
What about children who have trouble falling asleep?
The solution to this problem may be simpler than you think. Some kids are very sensitive to caffeine from cola or chocolate, and/or blue light from phones, tablets or TV. Some need to avoid evening excitement, such as meeting new people or jumping on the bed. Try removing those triggers for a week or so and see if that resolves the problem.
The Sleep Foundation recommendation for children aged three to five is 13-15 hours of sleep per night, but some kids, just like some adults, are simply unable to go right to sleep. Your high-energy child may need to spend up to an hour in bed before drifting off. These children may respond well when you give them permission to use a bedside lamp light and flip through the pages of picture books. Just as long as their feet don’t touch the floor!
Read more tips about sleep here