Mandy Stopard

Child behaviour specialist

Child Behaviour Blog

Better Bedtimes

evening family reading. father reads children a book before going to bed

Bedtimes can be stressful for busy families as parents strive to carve out some time for themselves in the evening and children find it hard to let go of their day or let go of their parents. There may be issues with getting through the bedtime routine or problems with not settling in bed and constantly demanding attention after lights out.

Bedtime routine:

Aim to meet the needs for attention before ‘settling down time’ by having a warm, loving, shared set routine e.g. bath, pyjamas, teeth, stories, settle. Positive and pleasant attention before settling can support children to soothe themselves to sleep afterwards.

For the routine to go smoothly prepare the child beforehand for your expectations and, if it would be helpful, create a schedule or visual routine/timetable for them (ready prepared symbols can be purchased online).

It might help things to run smoothly if the child ticks each task off their schedule (or removes the relevant symbol from their visual timetable) as they complete it.

A routine consisting of a few pleasant activities following those which are trickier can be motivating. This is all part of the ‘when….then…’ strategy and works well if employed throughout the day, not just at bedtime. This strategy aims to motivate the child through a transition by rewarding cooperation; when they have done something you want they get something they want. (E.g. ‘When you have brushed your teeth it will be time to pick out a story. What are you going to choose? Let me guess….’). 

Providing some choices can be helpful with any routine/situation; many kids cope better if they have a restricted number of options presented to them. 

Aim for an upbeat feel to the routine with a good dose of distraction if necessary.  However, beware of too much excitement as this can lead to issues for the child in their winding down process.

Settling down time:

Prep:

For children who struggle after lights out, demand attention or make a fuss about being left it is a good ploy to have a preparation session (when all is calm and tiredness or irritability isn’t an issue). This chat is to let your child know that they need to learn to settle without you but you will support them to slowly learn to do this.

Putting some gradual steps in to enable them to cope can be a good way forward here.

If, at the moment, you are having to sit on your child’s bed for them to go to sleep it might be that you let them know that you are slowly going ‘to retreat’ starting from a chosen day in the not too distant future. Your preparation may include something similar to: ‘I won’t be sitting on your bed but I’ll sit by your bed. The night after I’ll sit in the middle of the room. We will always be close to you until you can manage.’ How much information about the plan you discuss will depend on your child’s age and understanding. Start where your child is at the moment and expect gradual steps in the right direction. Keep the goal in mind with the child.

It may help to give your child some control, within boundaries, over where you are going to be situated on any given night, or some other aspect of the plan. ‘Would you like me to sit by your window or bookcase whilst you lie quietly?’

Parents who are not currently sitting with their child but who face demanding behaviour each night can resolve this attention needing behaviour with 5 minute visits. Let them know in the ‘prep session’ that you will visit for a short check-in every 5 minutes which will involve one kiss and a ‘night night’. If your child is anxious it may be necessary to let them know your whereabouts between visits, and this could be outside their room (to begin with, but gradually moving away).

As part of the prep be clear that you expect them to stay in bed and quietly relax. You might discuss how they will manage this. (e.g. ‘Which teddy will be the best to cuddle when Daddy isn’t with you?’)

Getting going:

As the plan is put into place, nonchalantly pick a quiet moment to remind your child each day of the overall goal and where you are in the plan. If there have been issues the night before you may need to row back a little to take account of anxieties, but be encouraging and positive about any successes.  

Stick to the plan with any amendments agreed that day.

If you are ‘camping out’ in the room or have agreed to be within close range ensure your child is properly asleep before you move away altogether.

Visits involve a quick kiss and a ‘Goodnight; see you in 5 minutes’ as you leave the bedroom. So no long chats, though ignoring their questions can be a recipe for winding things up. In the event of questions and demands a ‘matter-of-fact’, relaxed manner and brief communication normally work well in keeping things calm and on track.

Some parents have had success with starting the 5 minutes again if the child gets out of bed or calls out but beware starting a battle over the 5 minute visits. Clarity beforehand during the ‘daily prep’ is essential if you are thinking of doing this.

A couple of thoughts:

As the plan is put into place, nonchalantly pick a quiet moment to remind your child each day of the overall goal and where you are in the plan. If there have been issues the night before you may need to row back a little to take account of anxieties, but be encouraging and positive about any successes.  

Stick to the plan with any amendments agreed that day.

If you are ‘camping out’ in the room or have agreed to be within close range ensure your child is properly asleep before you move away altogether.

Visits involve a quick kiss and a ‘Goodnight; see you in 5 minutes’ as you leave the bedroom. So no long chats, though ignoring their questions can be a recipe for winding things up. In the event of questions and demands a ‘matter-of-fact’, relaxed manner and brief communication normally work well in keeping things calm and on track.

Some parents have had success with starting the 5 minutes again if the child gets out of bed or calls out but beware starting a battle over the 5 minute visits. Clarity beforehand during the ‘daily prep’ is essential if you are thinking of doing this.

Does this post resonate with you?

Contact me today, I have a proven track record of gaining success in changing behaviour. I have a wealth of experience, and my advice is based on positive and respectful management of children with appropriate boundary setting.
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