How to Get Kids to Go to Bed (and Stay There!)

How to Get Kids to Go to Bed (and Stay There!)

Ah, bedtime. At the end of the day, it’s time to get everyone’s teeth brushed, pajamas on, stories read, and lights out. It sounds simple enough, but many times kids just want to stay up and have fun and you’re worn out from a full day of work, parenting, etc. We know how easy it can be to lose your temper and argue with your kids about going to bed.

In this video Dr. Phelan talks about:

  • Why kids fight bedtime
  • How to create an effective bedtime routine that will make things easier and more peaceful
  • What to do if kids tantrum at bedtime
  • What to do with kids who get up in the middle of the night

The Two Reasons Kids Fight Bedtime

We've all experienced it: You say, "okay, time for bed" and are met with groans, yelling, crying, or defiance. But why do kids fight bedtime so hard? There are two common reasons: boredom and anxiety. 

Some children are afraid they'll miss out on the fun if they go to bed! They don't want to be bored. Some children have anxiety at bedtime. They might feel afraid of the dark or anxious about not being near their parents. Creating a bedtime routine, and having some simple strategies for keeping kids in bed will help bedtime run more smoothly for everyone!

The Basic Bedtime Routine

Like with everything else about parenting, when it comes to bedtime you need a plan! Create a basic bedtime routine and follow it every night. The 1-2-3 Magic suggestion for a basic bedtime routine is to let the child know 30 minutes before lights out that it's time to start getting ready for bed. They then need to brush their teeth, put on pajamas, get a glass of water, etc. Once those things are done, the rest of the time they can read with you, sing bedtime songs, or just talk. 

Obviously younger children will need more help and guidance, but once children are 5 or 6, they should be able to follow the basic bedtime routine on their own. Having a routine helps both you and your child to know what to expect at bedtime.

Cut Them Off At The Pass

If your child pops out of bed or comes out of their room at bedtime, you can use the "cut them off at the pass routine." Once the bedtime routine is done, you're not going to talk or argue with your child, and they're not going to come out of their room. Instead, place a chair in their doorway facing away from their bed. They should be able to see you, but you won't be making eye contact. Then settle down with a book, a magazine, or your own thoughts until they fall asleep.

This is a firm and gentle way of keeping them in their room and also addressing both boredom and any fears or anxiety they have about bedtime.

Nighttime Waking

When children wake up in the middle of the night, they may give you all sorts of reasons (or none at all if they're still very sleepy and disoriented). Some children do have nightmares or night terrors. But if that's not the reason they're awake the most common reason that kids wake up in the middle of the night is simple: they have to go to the bathroom.

They don't always realize it, but that physical discomfort woke them up, and they came looking for comfort - for you. The best thing to do is to get up and guide them gently to the bathroom. Don't talk to them or turn the lights on, those are both likely to wake them up more and make it harder for you both to get back to sleep. Once they've gone to the bathroom, gently guide them back to their bed.

Hopefully this bedtime advice is helpful! If you need more help with bedtime challenges, you Chapter 17 in 1-2-3 Magic is a great resource. We also have a Bedtime and Nighttime Waking Quick Reference Guide, as well as a Bedtime and Nighttime Waking on-demand seminar.


July 1, 2021
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