8 tips for success at bedtime

Written by: Layton Kirk

Does bedtime feel like a battle in your house? Do you end up giving in to the demand for more water, another story or other excuses your child comes up with to stay up later? Are you trying to transition your child to sleeping in her own bed and not having success? Follow these 8 tips to get your whole family sleeping more soundly.
1. Routine: Make the transition to bedtime smooth and predictable by creating a consistent routine. Include nighttime rituals that are calming and comforting, turning off electronics and cutting down on active play at least an hour before bed. If activities such as dressing in pajamas or brushing teeth are stressful for your child, finish them earlier so it’s not part of the relaxing routine.  
2. Select the proper bedtime: Your child should be tired when it is bedtime. If you are unsure what bedtime is right for your child, start to keep a sleep journal, tracking what time they fall asleep and what time they wake up in the morning. The goal is to help your child get the right amount of sleep on a reliable schedule. 
3. Sleep object: A sleep object can be soothing and comforting for a child who wakes in the night and needs help soothing himself back to sleep. Having an object that is only accessible during bedtime helps your child associate the object with sleep. An option is the OK To Wake! Owl. This cuddly owl tells your child with a soft voice and visual cue whether it is okay to get up or if they need to go back to bed.   
4. Social story: Utilize a social story to teach your child bedtime skills. A social story sounds like this: My name is James; I am learning to sleep in my own bed. If I wake up at night I can take big breaths and close my eyes to fall asleep. I can sing a quiet song, or cuddle with my owl. 
5. Staying in bed: When your child wakes in the night, calmly guide your child back into her bed using as few words as possible. Set your child up for success by being clear with your expectations long before bedtime. Have a conversation to define when she is allowed in your bed, such as when she is sick or has a scary dream. Consistency is important for breaking this habit.
6. Incentives: Incentives are a great way to communicate to your child that you see his efforts and are proud of their progress. Sticker charts can be effective in helping track progress. For example, every night your child stays in bed he gets a sticker. After seven stickers, he receives a special reward such as his favorite breakfast. If your child is younger than eight, consider having smaller immediate rewards along the way.  
7. Preparation: Before you change your child’s routine, start talking about it a few days in advance in a positive way, mark it on the calendar, have your child pick out special sheets, make a special pillow and make a social story to walk her through the upcoming change.
Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park.


Posted on December 15, 2015 at 4:17 PM