Winning the Bedtime War With Kids

It's an age-old struggle: Adults try to put their little ones to bed, but their kids seem determined to thwart the routine at every turn. Children try to avoid bedtime for a variety of reasons; they may have separation anxiety, be fearful of the dark, experience nightmares, or simply don't want to take time out for something as mundane as sleep.

How can you help alleviate the stress for everyone involved? Try these helpful strategies:

  • Set the right time for bed.

    Strangely enough, if a child's regular bedtime is too late, it may be more difficult for him or her to fall asleep. When overtired, little ones' bodies may release stress hormones, such as cortisol, that cause them to become more "wired." Be sure that your child's bedtime is early enough so that he can easily fall asleep.

  • Keep a consistent schedule.

    Stick closely to the established bedtime, even during weekends and summer holidays. Abrupt changes can reset children's internal clocks or cause them to wake up during the night. Even on special occasions, try to vary the regular bedtime no more than an hour or so.

  • Prepare for bedtime.

    In order to get ready for a good night's sleep, children need to calm down. Limit exercise, television, and video games for at least an hour before it's time to go to bed. It's also a good idea to avoid letting kids consume caffeine, chocolate, and sugary foods after lunchtime, as this can cause a spike in energy later in the day and make it difficult to relax later on.

  • Establish a routine.

    Set a consistent bedtime routine, which can include activities such as brushing teeth, taking a warm bath, singing songs, and listening to bedtime stories. It's a good idea for the final part of the routine to be an activity the child enjoys—so he or she will be motivated to get to it more quickly.

  • Create a sleep-friendly environment.

    Ensure that kids' bedrooms have enough blankets, are at a comfortable temperature, and have a nightlight if necessary. Some children feel more secure if they have a stuffed toy or blanket to hold as well. It's best to keep distractions out of the bedroom, such as television sets, video games, and computers. They can cause children to become overly excited or stimulated before bedtime, and can also be difficult to monitor once the bedroom door is closed.

  • Set and enforce limits.

    Although children may seem to insist on being in control, in reality, they want limits; it helps them feel safe when they know how you'll react. Once a bedtime hour is established, stick to it. Plan ahead to avoid common excuses for not staying in bed; for example, if a child consistently gets out of bed for a drink, keep a glass of juice or water on the table beside him. It may be tough to resist the crying, whining, and complaining at first, but most children are able to settle into a routine after just a few weeks.