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How to solve bedtime routine struggle

“My son had always been great about bedtime.  From an infant he was easy to get down and slept great!  But lately, bedtimes have gotten extremely stressful for both of us.  He SCREAMS and cries when I tell him it’s time for bed. Even after he gets countdowns (ex. 10 minutes ‘till we have to go upstairs for bed, 5 minutes ‘till we are going to bed) and he does fine with those.  But once it’s actually time, he freaks out. I’m at a loss since this is something we’ve never dealt with before. Any advice?”

There was a time that I felt like my toddler was a bedtime terror.  That is not an exaggeration. She would cry, whine, yell, run away with the toothbrush hanging out of her mouth, refuse to do what I was asking etc. etc.  I DREADED the bedtime routine.

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I learned a simple but very helpful strategy from Positive Discipline! I had her make a bedtime routine “chart” with me.  We made it together during the day when she was in a good mood. I asked her about everything she needed to do before bed (i.e. take bath, put on pjs, brush teeth, brush hair, clean up toys, etc.) and put them in order.  As the last thing to do before going to sleep, I let her choose something for us to do together (within reason) and she chose playing a game and reading books. This serves as her motivation to get through her routine. To clarify, this is NOT a reward or a bribe for finishing her bedtime routine.  These are things I would normally do with her every night anyway. Putting the chart together has helped her understand that first she needs to get ready for bed, THEN we will play a game and/or read. I also let her know that if she wastes time then we won’t have time to play the game together. It puts the responsibility on her.

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The routine chart can be actual pictures you’ve taken and printed out of them completing each step, pictures they draw themselves, a written list for older children, or a typed list for kids who like technology.  Whatever they prefer.

Whenever she is resistant, I redirect her to her chart.  “What’s next on your list?” And she goes to check it. This allows the chart that SHE created be the “boss” and not me.  It gives her power and buy in by being allowed to create it.

Kids will test us over and over and as long as you’re consistent with the rule and boundary, they will eventually get it.

Nowadays, bedtime routines are so much less stressful.  There are still nights I get pushback, but there are also many nights I see a little girl who is excited to follow along with something she create and has proudly hung it up to see.

Matt Hendon