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Okay you guys, I have a confession:
Bedtime has been a huge battle for us ever since Kit turned 3…
yup! You read that right. We have been dealing with bedtime battles for 2 years now. I give myself a bit of a pass because Kit’s our oldest so we’re just figuring this stuff out too…
but I also know that we let a lot of things pass in the name of “just get her to go to bed” that ended up making things a lot worse.
And then Ella and Rosie turned three… and then they all started sharing a room.
It’s honestly been a bit of a disaster since August (and add a new baby to the mix and…yikes!).
Now. Something about me:
when I have a problem I’m trying to solve I will spend countless hours doing research trying to find the “best practice.” Which also means that our poor kids are subjected to quite a few parenting experiments ha!
So over the last few years I have tried pretty much every parenting technique for getting your kids to go to bed.
But it wasn’t until recently (around early December) that we really started to find a rhythm and a method that works well for us and our girls.
Because I had read so many different opinions and tried so many different techniques, I came up with a bit of a hodge podge method, and because it’s been working SO well I wanted to share it with you.
These were my goals:
- The girls would be able to go to sleep independently (i.e. without me or David)
- The bedtime routine would be a peaceful, connected time as a family
- David and I wouldn’t have to resort to yelling or frustration to get them to settle down (too much of that was happening)
- The girls would stay in bed (both at night and in the morning), and not yell at us to come into their room after the door is shut for the night.
Here’s what bedtime looked like for us:
Start bedtime 2 hours before bed, but somehow feel super rushed when it got to be 20 minutes till bedtime and nothing had happened yet. Wrestle the girls into their jammies, battle over getting their teeth brushed, everyone arguing over which book we would get to read then arguing over how many books we would read. Finally get them into bed only to have them all get out of bed in defiance and because they forgot to tell us a million things until we would capitulate and lay in the room with them until they were asleep or mostly asleep.
We were all exhausted, and no one was getting the sleep that they needed.
Okay. Now that you have a picture of what WASN’T working for us, here are 5 tips for ending bedtime battles and accomplishing the above goals (they are a work in progress so we’re not 100% every night, but we have seen a HUGE improvement from where things used to be):
1 | Prep your kids:
We had a conversation with the girls that we were no longer going to stay in their room after we put them into bed a week before we actually stopped laying in there with them. “It’s important for mommy and daddy to have time with each other after you go to bed so in a few days we’re going to start putting you to bed, and leaving right away.” I’ve found that giving kids lots of prep makes any transition so much easier.
2 | Provide high connection at bedtime:
But instead of just cutting out that cuddle time, we started doing a slightly longer bedtime routine full of high connection activities. So we start our routine by sitting down and playing a board game as a family while having a bedtime snack (assuring they go to bed with full tummies!). Then we all snuggle up on the couch and read a book, pray, and sing together. This way the girls are still getting lots of quality time and snuggles so their little love tanks are filled up right before they have to go be in their beds alone for the night.
3 | Dim the lights:
We started dimming the lights WAY down about a 1/2 hour before they go to bed. I read somewhere that before electricity was invented people went to bed super early… basically as soon as the sun went down. So our bodies were created to have a surge of melatonin as darkness sets in, but because we’ve “tricked” them with electricity it can be hard to settle down… basically your body isn’t being triggered to get sleepy. Turning the lights out before bed (we keep one small lamp on… just enough to see our book), helps trigger your body’s natural melatonin surge. This has helped a ton!
4 | Integrate fun and meaningful routines:
We integrated fun/meaningful routines into their bedtime that they look forward to. We play “ready, set, go” for who can run fastest to their beds, we do a rocket ship countdown when we put their covers on, we pray a blessing over them every night (may the Lord bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you, and may He give you peace), and we leave little drawings in their bed to find when they wake up. These loving gestures help so much because the girls are going to bed feeling warm, loved, and cared for.
5 | The 10 Minute Rule:
Finally, we started the 10 minute rule, which has been the biggest game changer at keeping them in their beds and quiet once the door is shut. Once they are tucked in we set the timer for 10 minutes and leave the door open (David and I leave the room though). During that 10 minutes they can call out and ask for anything they forgot to ask about or tell us anything that comes to mind. Once the timer has gone off it’s door shut, and no more requests. Now. This works most of the time. When they “forget” the rule and call out asking for something else, we open the door and remind them that the timer went off. However, each girl gets a chance to ask for one more thing if they need to (as a family, we almost always offer once more chance because we believe God give us lots of chances to get things right so we should extend that same grace to our kids). If their requests exceed past that one more thing we will stick our head in the room and say “Ok! We’ll get it tomorrow” and then shut the door right away. Sometimes this will lead to a few tears, but we are okay with that (if one of the girls is really upset we will go in and help them through that: “you’re really upset right now, this is hard, you really wanted that xyz, but it’s time for bed now. let me help you go to bed”).
A few bonus thoughts on dealing with defiance:
Sometimes your kids don’t act like perfect angels (isn’t it so shocking when that happens!), and they will defy you in some part of the routine. This is what has helped us (or at least a version of this):
“Oh bummer! It looks like you are having a hard time getting in bed. This is mommy and daddy’s time to spend with each other just the two of us so for every minute you waste of our time right now, you’ll have to pay us back for in chores tomorrow.”
Now. Sometimes this gets a response right away, and they’re back in bed immediately. Sometimes it takes them a good long while for it to sink in. Don’t feel surprised if that happens because they’re just kids. They’re learning, just like we are! But just keep reiterating the same message: “How sad! 5 minutes have gone by so you’ll have to do a 5 minute chore tomorrow to give me back my time. Do you want it to be a 6 minute chore? The choice is yours! 5 minutes if you get in bed now, or 6 minutes if you choose to stay out of bed.”
This has never not worked. Never. It’s taken them a bit longer on occasion, but it has always resulted in them getting back in bed without us having to resort to yelling or frustration. Instead, they learn that they are capable of making good choices, but also that poor choices have consequences and they are responsible for making things right.
BUT you HAVE to follow through in the morning. It’s so important that you actually make them do a chore, and then chat with them about how they are repaying mommy for her time. This is a great chance to also remind them that you love them no matter what choices they make, and that God loves them even more. Affirm their gifts, but show them how you’re going to help them use those gifts appropriately:
“I love you no matter what choices you make and so does God! You’re really passionate about the things that matter to you, and that is such a cool thing! God made you strong and willing to fight for things that you believe in, and I love that about you. But sometimes at bedtime, that isn’t so helpful. But I’m here for you, and I’m going to help you learn how to use that gift in a way that’s really helpful to you and to other people!”
These follow up conversations have led to some really sweet conversations with my girls.
Our alarm clock:
We had a typical toddler alarm clock that would turn one color when it was time to go to bed, and then turn another color when it was time to wake up but I ended up upgrading to this one (affiliate link) because I wanted an alarm clock that would give the girls a 30 minute warning when it was almost time to wake up. This one is pretty basic, but it works really well and it has completely solved any issue with the girls getting up and asking if the alarm clock was about to go off yet (yes, that was a thing ha!).
We also use room darkening shades, and a basic sound machine
Some final thoughts:
If I’m being completely honest with you, I had to have a major heart change about bedtime as well. I was approaching every night with the feeling of “thank goodness they’re finally going to bed so I can get a break!”, which made me super crabby and irritable when they weren’t getting it right every night.
When I shifted to the mindset that “this is my last chance to connect with them for the day,” everything changed for me. Now I see bedtime as an opportunity to pour into them one last time, and make it my goal to send them to bed with full hearts. I’m not perfect at this, but it’s my goal.
I also stopped putting pressure on them (and myself) to get it right every time. In other words, I stopped trying to make the bedtime “behavior” stop, and I started seeing this as an opportunity to train them for the long haul, and give them the tools they need to find success on their own. So then when one night doesn’t go so well, it’s less of a “what’s wrong with you” and more of a process we’re all working through. SO much grace in the journey right? God doesn’t expect perfection, and He certainly doesn’t get mad when we fail so let’s offer that same grace to our kids.
I think I covered everything I wanted to. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart because sleep is so important for little developing minds. Let me know if I missed anything or if you have any questions! I’m always happy to chat about this.
Oh and one last thing before I go:
A few months ago I stumbled upon the Connected Families organization, and it has been life changing in the way I parent. I plan to do a more in depth post about this approach, but a lot of the stuff I mention above comes directly from this method so make sure to check them out.
Until next time,
to see other parenting tips and tricks go here