“Can I have just one more glass of water, mommy?” “Can you read me two more stories?” “Jimmy still has his light on.” If this sounds like your nightly routine, you may need to change some things. Believe me, as a mom to four, I have felt your pain more than once. Thankfully, I have also learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. Easing kids into a bedtime routine is not always easy. But with practice and patience, it can be done effectively.
Lay down the ground rules. The first step in easing kids into a bedtime routine is establishing the ground rules. Since this is likely to be an issue with younger children, use a picture chart to illustrate the bedtime steps. For instance, the first step could be a picture of a rubber duck in a bathtub, to indicate that bath time comes first. Next, could be a toothbrush, then a toilet and sink, then a book and then the bed. Whatever your family’s routine is, that’s what should go on the chart.
Explain why each step is important. Your child needs to understand why it is necessary for each preparation step to happen before bed. Explain in terms she can understand. For instance, say things like “We read a bedtime story to have some fun and think happy thoughts for our dreams.” “Using the potty helps keep you dry and happy all night long.” “We brush our teeth to keep the germ monsters away while we’re sleeping.”
Follow up with each step. Don’t just instruct your child to do things and leave it at that. You need to follow up to make sure he is actually completing each step. If she sees that you are not really watching, she may attempt to skip a step. If she gets away with it, chances are, she’ll try it again and again. But if you check to see each step is completed, she has no room to be sneaky. You don;t need to be right there for every single thing. But you do need to be sure she is doing each step.
Sympathize, but don’t overdo it. It’s perfectly fine to offer hugs and sympathy when your child is unable to complete a task. But don’t let him take advantage of the kindness. Those puppy dog eyes can really do a number on parents. It’s easy to give in once they start complaining because as a natural instinct, parents want to help. But if you let your child skip steps, stay up later, or otherwise break the bedtime rules, expect it to become a habit.
Reward your child for proper bedtime prep. If your child has done well with the bedtime preparation, you can offer a reward. Depending on the achievement, the reward may be big or small. A simple “great job” and a hug can actually do wonders for many kids. Other prizes may include things like stickers and new bedtime stories. Be careful not to give a reward every time or your child may come to expect gifts before going to bed every night, which is not healthy. Focus only on certain milestones.
Be consistent every single night. If you stray from the ground rules, so will your child. Kids generally follow the lead of their parents. Letting them get away with something one time is invitation to try it again. On that same wavelength, if you are consistent, that will become their habit as well. Follow your bedtime chart in order every single time. After a while, odds are, you won’t need it anymore and will be moving on to that next parental mountain to climb.
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