Establish a calming, consistent, and predictable routine.
This is not a time to run around to get your little one’s sillies out! The bedtime routine should be a way to help your child wind down and get prepared for the next day. These routines should be short and predictable (about 30 minutes should be sufficient) and consistency is the name of the game as kids THRIVE with consistency. If you too often stray from what your child is expecting, they might be more likely to push bedtime boundaries.
Confidently set expectations around bedtime by simply and matter-of-factly explaining how bedtime will go. Then stick to your plan! When your child sees that you have the same approach to bedtime each night and you are not willing to engage in any bedtime drama, your child will likely fall into the routine more naturally and be less likely to fight you or try to negotiate.
A diet high in sugar and processed foods including simple carbs and low quality fats (such as canola, soybean, safflower) can lead to less restful sleep and more nighttime wakeups. Instead, by incorporating more protein and plant fiber into your child’s diet, you can increase the time they spend in slow wave sleep, the most restful sleep state. This way you will be more likely to see a happier, more flexible child.
Kids need to move.
Incorporate daytime activities that set your child up for restful sleep and prevent them from becoming overtired. Specifically, regular body movement is crucial for all children and several studies suggest that it can lead to more restful sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 1 hour of physical activity daily, so get outside as much as possible and let your child explore, climb, run, jump and MOVE. And, while exercise is important, it’s also beneficial to balance high energy with quiet activities at home. Tune into your child’s personality and interests and try to incorporate the things they love into their daily routine. And a note about screens… blue light emitted from screens can suppress the production of the brain’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin, and consequently can make falling asleep and staying asleep more challenging. A general rule of thumb is to limit screen time as much as possible, and more importantly, no screen time after dinner.
Consider a “bedtime pass” if your child is older than 3.
This idea was developed and studied by behavioral health specialists and it’s something that your child can choose to use only one time per night to leave their bed. The critical rule of the bedtime pass is that there must be a purpose attached to its use. For example, the pass can be used to get up to get a sip of water, report a scary dream, or to get 5 more minutes of extra cuddle time. Interestingly, results of studies investigating the use of the bedtime pass suggest that children who have a pass take less time to settle down and often don’t end up using their pass at all. The results can largely be explained by the pass creating a sense of security and an element of control in what frequently is an out-of-control emotional situation.
Additionally, a child might want to save their pass given the power it carries – and, in doing so, they fall asleep waiting to use it. Ta-dah!