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Want to Get Your Kid to Bed? Try this.

As a child therapist, I was asked about how to get kids to bed a lot.  Many kids want to delay bedtime as much as they possibly can, oftentimes wanting to stay up later to watch more television or to play video games.  Some parents are able to get their kids to bed on time but then experience being awakened in the middle of the night by their children, who just won’t go back to sleep.

We all want our kids to develop healthy sleep habits starting at an early age.  Getting your kid to bed at a decent time helps your child’s mental/emotional functioning for the next day. It also helps your child to focus on schoolwork and to stay awake in school. And lastly, it helps you out by giving you some time to yourself before your own bedtime. Therefore, getting your kid to sleep and to stay asleep are essential.  So if you want to get your kid to bed, try this list of tips:

Tips on How to Get Your Kid to Bed on Time:

1. Create a bedtime routine and follow it consistently

First, come up with a list of tasks that your child needs to do in order to wind down and get ready for bed. These tasks might include things like picking out clothes for the next day, taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, etc. You can write these down on a poster if you think your child could benefit from having a visual aid. Establish what time your child needs to begin these tasks and, ultimately, what time he will need to be in bed.

You can even write the tasks down on a chart, such as this one:

2. Ensure that your child is following through with the steps of his bedtime routine and praise him each step of the way

If you just tell your child “Get ready for bed” or “Go do your bedtime routine,” you may often find that he gets distracted along the way. Or perhaps he is still doing the same activity that he was engaged in when you first prompted him to get ready for bed. That’s because children often need some help to keep them going. So make sure that he is starting his first task before you walk away, and praise him for getting started. He may also need prompting to begin each consecutive step, at least until the routine becomes second nature to him. Be sure to praise him as he is completing these steps, as well as after he has gotten into bed. Here’s more on how to get your kid to follow commands and more on praising your child.

3. Avoid screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime

The blue light emitted from screens interferes with our ability to get sound sleep. Plus, if your child is playing an adrenaline-boosting video game, it may take him a while to calm down and mentally prepare himself for sleep. Therefore, it is best to restrict his access to screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

4. Create a relaxing environment that stimulates sleep

What’s going on in your household while you are trying to get your child to bed?  Does the household environment promote sleep and relaxation?  If not, what can you do to create a more relaxing environment for your child?  Some ideas include: having everyone else turn off screens, having others follow a bedtime routine at the same time, having a “whisper rule” for everyone once it’s time to get ready for bed, turning off lights, turning on calming music or sounds, and aromatherapy.  See if your child has any ideas about how to create a calming environment as well.

5. Use rewards if needed

If the previous tips aren’t quite helping, you can use rewards to help your kid get to bed. Rewards should be delivered immediately after the good behavior, so try to come up with a reward that can be delivered at bedtime without getting your child too hyped up (No screens!). For instance, an extra bedtime story or a special snack work well for many kids.  Non-monetary rewards are generally best.  And remember that the reward should match the behavior.  Be sure to take a look at this post if you decide that using rewards is the way to go: How to Reward Your Child’s Behavior the Right Way.

6. Use a behavior chart if needed

Some kids need a little extra help with this behavior, so here is where using a behavior chart can be handy. Behavior charts provide a visual aid that you and your child can use. It allows your child to check in with his progress on completing tasks and earning rewards. When using a behavior chart, you can establish daily rewards, as well as weekly rewards. You can download a FREE bedtime routine behavior chart here:

Some Extra Tips on Keeping Your Kid in Bed:

If your child awakens at night, follow these tips to help him get back to sleep and stay asleep:

1. Get your child back to bed

As tempting as it may be to allow your child to sleep in your bed, try to have him return to his own bed immediately.  Sleeping in your bed may be comforting for your child, and children eventually outgrow the need to sleep in their parents’ beds anyway.  However, from a behavioral perspective, if you allow them to sleep in your bed, you risk it becoming a habit for a while.  Therefore, instead of allowing your child to snuggle up next to you, redirect him back to bed.  You can escort your child back to his bed if needed.

2. Try not to provide too much comfort or attention

Ok.  This sounds bad, but I don’t mean it in a bad way…. haha.  Your child might make requests while he is awake, such as by asking for a snack or for you to lie down with him.  But try not to give in to the requests.  Try to provide a minimal amount of comfort and attention in the middle of the night in order to create a contrast between day and night.  As long as you give lots of attention during the day, he will learn that he can get attention during the day but that nighttime is for sleeping.

You can provide some comfort by perhaps sitting on the edge of your child’s bed and rubbing him on the back for a few minutes.  But avoid things like getting into bed with him, rocking him to sleep (if he’s younger), reading books, or talking.  In fact, try to provide the least amount of verbal interaction possible in the middle of the night.

3. Avoid giving snacks in the middle of the night

As I mentioned, your child might make requests for things in the middle of the night.  Try to avoid giving any snacks, however.  Instead, make sure that your child has gotten enough to eat during the day.  If your child requests a drink, you can get him a small glass of water, but avoid providing any other beverages that he enjoys in the middle of the night.

4. Continue to avoid screens and other activities

Do not turn on the television or allow your child to engage in any activities in the middle of the night.  That will only create more problems.  If he knows that waking up could lead to him getting to do fun activities, then he will wake up at night on a regular basis.

5. Praise your child’s successes

Be sure to provide praise when your child listens to you to return to bed.  You should also praise your child in the morning after he sleeps through the night.  If he receives praise and positive attention for these behaviors, it will help him to continue doing these things.

6. Use rewards if needed

If your child awakens you almost every night, then you may want to consider using rewards.  You don’t have to tell your child that you will reward him for sleeping through the night.  Instead, surprise him with a fitting reward the next time he does sleep through the night.  You can also use a behavior chart to target this behavior.  Just be sure to complete the chart the next morning instead of during the middle of the night so that you don’t interfere with your child’s sleep.

Is this something that you have struggled with?  What tips were helpful for you?

Disclaimer:

Although I was a therapist, I am not your therapist or your child’s therapist. Reading this post does not enter you into a client-therapist relationship with me. The content in this post is meant to be used as a general guideline.  It has not been individually tailored to the needs of you and your child. If you are in need of therapeutic services, please seek the support of a mental health counselor or behavior specialist.

References: My information comes from years of training on Applied Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other evidence-based techniques.  I also like to refer to Russell Barkley (Defiant Children) and Alan Kazdin (Parent Management Training).

Get a FREE Bedtime Routine Chart

Plus 2 customizable reward charts, a morning routine chart, a homework chart, and guidelines on how to use them with this FREE Reward Chart Bundle!

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