“Go to sleep”: How to avoid frustrations and create a more enjoyable bedtime
Updated: Sep 26
It’s bedtime and your heart starts to race. You know there is a fight waiting to happen. At the same time, you are so excited for those few quiet hours in the day to begin. If this resonates with you…you are not alone…you are the parent of a toddler.
Bedtime is a challenge for many parents. Children have different needs to get themselves ready for bed and sleep. This is the time in the day when parents are tired and just really want that break that is so close yet so far away.
I have found that for myself, on the most trying of nights, it has been helpful to keep in mind one thing:
This won’t last forever.
They won’t always be this small.
The reality is that before we know it, our children will need us less and less and we may find ourselves longing for the days when they wanted one more story, one more back rub, one more hug . Sometimes just a small change in perspective can make a huge difference.
If this change in perspective isn’t enough for you, below are a few more things you can implement to ease the transition. We have all heard about setting the stage by keeping things dark and quiet, avoiding TV, or giving a bath. These are all useful tips. The suggestions below are meant to add to these and give you additional options
1. Determine what your child needs to unwind. Some kids need to rough house and really let go of any excess energy before they can begin to unwind and slow down for the night. The timing of this is critical. Make sure you have space for your child to do this if needed. Other children need quiet time for a while before being ready for bed or sleep. Figure out what works best for your child. You may just have one of those kids that needs to get a little more energy out before moving onto the quiet bedtime routine.
2. Take a look at your energy level. If you have been struggling with bed time it is possible that you are feeling anxious as it approaches. This energy is easily picked up by our kids making it even harder for them to calm down. Make sure that you begin bedtime with your own sense of calm. If you feel worked up or stressed take a few minutes to calm down. Take a few deep breathes. If you have a list of to do’s running through your head, take a few minutes to write them down so that you don’t have to hold onto them during the bedtime routine.
3. Be Flexible and playful. Sometimes we need to let go of our expectations and do what works for our kids. One of my children sometimes chooses to fall asleep on the floor. While I wouldn’t choose that, and something in me wants to insist she sleeps in her bed, I avoid a conflict and just let it go. Before I know it, she’s asleep. Try avoiding power struggles before bed over things that won’t really matter as this just frustrates everyone and just makes the process last longer. Keeping it playful and making a game out of bedtime may help too. Maybe play a game of “who can lay the stillest” or let’s pretend to be animals (child can pick animal) and it is bedtime. Anything that can make the process more fun is worth trying.
4. Realize that it is OK for your child to need you. So many people think their toddlers and young children should be able to just go to bed by themselves. This is true for some kids, but if you are reading this, I am guessing not true for yours. This is OK. Children learn to calm and sooth themselves by us helping them. One day, they will do it on their own, but the time frame for this varies. Bedtime is a great way to connect. So if it works for you, rub their backs, stay with them until they fall asleep, tell them stories, etc. Your kids may have had a busy day, they may be afraid of the dark, they may just need your affection. All of this is OK. Remember, as our children grow so does their independence. Enjoy and savor these moments. Our children grow fast.
5. Try to incorporate relaxation or mediation into your routine. There are some fantastic books and even apps for kids to work on relaxing. Guided Imagery is great for kids. Not only is it a great way to unwind at the end of the day, but it also has many added benefits for your child. It is a great way to reduce stress and improve sleep. There are many different topics and issues that can be addressed through guided imagery such as anxiety, fears, and nightmares. If you put a search for “guided imagery for kids” in amazon you find a long list of books and audio tracks. My Kids enjoy Maureen Garth’s book Starbright- Meditions and The Magic Island: Relaxation for Kids CD, but there are many to choose from.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach. She is passionate about helping parents manage parenting challenge while building a strong relationship with their children.