For kids, sleep is like a cunning thief that robs them of consciousness. There’s so much to do and so many things to experience and explore, and then drowsiness comes along and robs them of life. So you’re never going to get them to love the idea of bedtime. You can, however, do a number of things that will ease the combative relationship they have with sleep.
- Talk up the value of sleep. Explain its importance, and how it helps them function better during the day. Remember the scientist who joked that the only reason for sleep was to cure sleepiness? For children, sleep is just something we do, and for most, the reason is a mystery. Helping them better grasp the purpose of sleep may result in a little less antagonism towards it.
- Model a healthy relationship yourself. Make comments in front of them like, “I’m so tired, I can’t wait to cuddle up” or “I’m really excited to climb into my bed with my soft pillows and take a trip to dreamland” or “Bedtime is one of my favorite parts of the day.” The more you covet sleep, the less dire their own opinions about it will be.
- Make bedtime fun. Parents often equate fun with rambunctiousness, but there are many other types of fun that can settle kids in for sleep. Dress up the bedtime routine with storytelling and imagination games that kids can do in their bed. See the superhero bedtime game, contained in our Family Sleep e-book, as an example.
- Offer sleep rewards. For example, give them a glow-in-the-dark star to hang on the ceiling for each no-fuss night, or let them earn flexible bedtime privileges on certain nights for each no-fuss routine the rest of the week.
- Let kids know what happens after they go to bed, which is typically a whole lot of nothing. Explain that everyone in the neighborhood is winding down for the night, and there’s nothing but old people stuff on TV. One of the main reasons kids are reluctant to go to bed is that they fear missing out. So put their mind at ease.
- Focus on what you can control. Refer to the guidelines provided in our Family Sleep Handbook (the eBook version) on habits that are conducive to sleep, and then assess how your own child’s schedule measures up. Could you consider moving dinner back? Is their diet promoting sleep? What about their typical nighttime routines? Often times there are simple changes that can be made to make the transition to sleep easier.
If kids are playing in their bed
If your child has a habit of playing in her bed, make a rule that whatever toys you catch her with will be put up the next day.