Of all the daily arguments between parents and children, bedtime flare-ups are one of the most common. Young children, in particular, are prone to meltdowns at this time – and let’s face it, late in the evening both tired parents and children are running low on patience and the capacity to cope. Children’s Behavioural Specialist & Author Alicia Eaton shares her tips for the 7 best ways to create a bedtime routine and avoid the meltdown:
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Bedtime can be a very tricky time of the day, many parents are more likely to snap and give vent to frustrations, convinced that our kids are doing their best to wind us up. From your child’s point of view, it’s important to realise they are not being ‘difficult’, they simply don’t feel the need to go to bed.
So what can parents do? Here are some tips to help establish a proper bedtime routine.
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How to Create a Good Bedtime Routine
#1. Create a Timetable
It really does help to write out a timetable showing the exact time for
- tidying up
- going upstairs
- laying out school things
- teeth brushing and
- reading a story
- right up until ‘lights out’.
My tip: write the schedule on a large piece of paper and put it somewhere your child can see. If everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, there will be fewer arguments.
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#2. Be consistent
Do the same thing each night for at least a week and you will see things starting to change. Consistency is the key here.
My tip: If after a week of doing this, you find you are still struggling to get your kids up to bed, start the routine earlier.
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#3. Keep bedrooms tidy
It’s not relaxing for your child to sleep in a room that has toys, shoes, clothes, books strewn all over the floor. We all feel calmer in an uncluttered environment.
My tip: Make the tidying up process part of the bedtime routine – this will also help signal the ‘end of the day’.
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#4. Make bedtime dark
It’s better to sleep in a dark environment because light and hormones dictate our sleep patterns. When light dims in the evening, we produce a chemical called melatonin, which gives the body clock its cue telling us it’s time to sleep.
The sooner you can train your child to sleep in a dark room so much the better. Wean your child off night-lights as soon as you can by taking small steps to making the room darker each night, until you remove the light completely.
My tip: use blackout blinds to help block out light on summer evenings.
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#5. Keep electronic gadgets out the bedroom
Keeping electronic gadgets like phones, laptops, iPods out of the bedroom is better all around, for the electro-magnetic field created by these stimulates the mind and will keep your child awake.
And, if they’re awake in the small hours of the morning, the temptation to go on to social media and chat to friends will be too great if the device is recharging nearby.
And this applies to TVs and DVD players too. Bedrooms are for sleeping and relaxing in, not watching screens. This may be tough for your child but it’s important for good health.
My tip: don’t recharge in bedrooms, do this elsewhere in the house.
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#6. Don’t Let Bedtime Anxiety Derail You
It can be tempting to allow a child who’s nervous about going to sleep, maybe because they’re afraid of the dark, or regularly suffer from nightmares or night terrors, to have a staggered bedtime routine.
You could be allowing them time spent unwinding and snoozing on the downstairs sofa once they’re ready for bed, but this could be making your child’s sleep problem worse. They’ll find it increasingly difficult to get into the habit of falling asleep independently and you’ll be forever stuck with them on the sofa.
Kids need to learn how to lie in bed and fall asleep naturally. Yes, we’ve all fallen asleep in front of the TV before, only to wake up feeling disorientated and then we struggle to get to sleep when we do actually go to bed.
Disrupting the pattern of our sleep cycle regularly will only add to your bedtime troubles.
My tip: create a ‘Worry Box’ to help with anxieties. Too often the first opportunity to think about worries is at the end of the day, when our minds are starting to slow down. Don’t be surprised if your child starts blurting out their problems at bath time. This can leave some children ‘wound up’ just when you want them to be winding down.
Encourage them to write each worry down on a piece of paper and put into a ‘Worry Box’. This can be an empty shoe box and your child can decorate it if they wish. Once the worrying thought is written down on a piece of paper, simply fold it up and pop it into the Worry Box, placing the lid firmly back on the box.
Psychological studies show that this works by tricking your mind into thinking that the worry has been dealt with. Let your child open their box once a week and look back to see how many of those ‘worries’ actually went away naturally or even needed to be have been worried about in the first place.
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#7. Know How Much Sleep Your Child Needs
“How many hours sleep are children supposed have?” is a question I’m often asked.
Many parents are unsure of exactly how much sleep their children should be getting and how many hours constitute a ‘good night’s sleep’. Nowadays experts would agree that we all get far fewer hours than is necessary for good health. The information below shows how many hours are recommended by the NHS, according to their age and is a useful guide.
Recommended quantity of sleep by age
- 1 year old: 2hr 30 mins day and 11hrs night
- 2 year old: 1hr 30 mins day and 11hrs 30 mins night
- 3 year old: 1-45mins day and 11 hrs 30 mins-12 hrs night
- 4 year old: 11hrs 30 mins
- 5 year old: 11hrs
- 6 year old: 10hrs 45 mins
- 7 year old: 10hrs 30 mins
- 8 year old: 10hrs 15 mins
- 9 year old: 10 hrs
- 10 year old: 9hrs 45 mins
- 11 year old: 9hrs 30 mins
- 12 year old: 9hrs 15 mins
- 13 year old: 9hrs 15 mins
- 14 year old: 9hrs
- 15 year old: 9hrs
- 16 year old: 9hrs
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Alicia Eaton is a Behavioural and Emotional Wellbeing Specialist with a practice in London’s Harley Street. You can read more advice about dealing with children’s sleep issues in her book “Words that Work – How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything”.