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Getting Kids to Settle Down at Bed Time

Updated on October 9, 2013

A Consistent Bedtime is the Cornerstone of Success


Specific and General Advice--Both Easy to Give and Hard to Take

When a child sees a parent in pajamas, something wonderful happens inside the mind of that child. The realization that it's bedtime, as evidenced by the living proof of a large adult dressed in sleeping clothes, is the first step toward getting children to bed on time.

A child either can not tell time, or at a certain age has developed skills that include playing off parents' forgetfulness in order to leverage the emotional clout of days gone by, when the child was so cute and little that everything was OK with the parents, in that blissful, magical world of infancy and toddlerhood.

But time passes, and children glued to TV's at exact times oddly enough still pretend that they can't read clocks, even digital clocks, when in fact, they are doing pre-algebra in school.

There is something powerful about the way we dress, however. An adult in pajamas obviously is going nowhere exciting. The children are smart enough to know that, so why stay up to see what daddy or mommy have up their sleeves? They're boring. They're going to sleep.

This takes the child into the second step in the process. If the grown-ups have declared, tacitly by clothing language, that there's nothing happening tonight worth staying up for, then this must be true. So why not call it a day?

But the third step has to be taken, or else the child may try for an all-night marathon. The third step requires a firm warning, but with a little flex time built in, such as, "Five more minutes."

This warning, issued by an adult in full pajama uniform, registers strongly in the mind of the child. But the follow-through must be accurate. At 5 or 6 minutes, say, "OK, it's bedtime," turn off the TV, almost all the lights, and guide the child gently, but firmly, toward the bed and bath section of the house.

The rest is a piece of cake. But come back in a few minutes to make sure the child is clean, in bed, and yawning preferably (although that's not necessary).

The advice is simple, but it's a gimmick that has worked for me, even up into the pre-teen years, with lovable children who have the power to make or break our relaxation time schedule, which often must await and coincide with their dreaming schedules.

A question might arise as to what time is best for a child to go to bed. It is more important to keep to a regular schedule than to choose an exact time that will fit every family. If it works naturally in the family routine to have a certain time as bedtime, then it's best to stick to that time consistently.

A child will be able to tell whether the parents and other household members consider the child's bedtime a major priority, or are lax about the subject. If the child senses that the parents don't care that much whether bedtime is observed strictly, then probably there will be some sleep problems from getting to bed late too often.

If children do not sleep well, their daytime lives will be unhappy and full of fatigue and irritability. It is important that all household members know the children's bedtimes at night, and cooperate in getting them to bed on time.

Not only going to bed in the evening, but also waking up in the morning on time to get ready to leave the home is very important. Keeping both times as consistent as possible will establish a daily rhythm for a child. It will make the child's life run more smoothly.

Teenagers must be treated differently from preteens. With older teens, there still should be a bedtime, although it can be much later, usually almost the same as the adult household members' go to bed.

If the teenager oversleeps, the parents will have some difficult choices because they don't want to see their child punished too severely at school or in his or her important activities for being late. But parents should try to avoid excessive leniency toward teens who oversleep. If they are too complacent, this may remove any motivation to get to sleep on time so to avoid oversleeping in the morning.

Many parents who have commented on their children's bedtimes have said that an elementary child might have typically an 8:00 to 8:30 bedtime, while a middle-schooler might stay up until 9:00 or 10:00. On weekends, additional time is added for children's special activities. But each family will choose whatever time works best considering the household routine and special obligations. The goal always will be to have the children get sufficient sleep to be healthy.

Certain activities have to be restricted in the evening because they interfere too many times with children's bedtimes. For example, phone calling to friends when homework is due and unfinished, or Internet usage not connected to any schoolwork assignment or pursued in secret after lights-out and bedtime, should be strictly regulated.

All adults in the household must be of one mind in enforcing these rules so that children know there will be no loopholes and times will be observed consistently and fairly every day.

The Morality of Manipulating Your Children

How Best to Affect Children's Behavior

By "manipulation" is meant an attempt by one person (a parent) to affect the behavior of another person (a child) to get a result that will benefit both, hopefully, by creating advantages helpful to both individuals (such as at bed time).

Like adults who are given a hard-line sales pitch, a child too will rebel when he or she senses the parent is manipulating the child to get him or her into bed by a certain hour. No one likes to be controlled too much.

But later, the child may realize that it's in his or her best interests to get to bed at an acceptable hour. This realization may come after spending too many days being sleepy and depressed because of not getting a good sleep.

A parent who tries to have a good effect on his or her child's life must be patient when it comes to a long-term task such as instilling a habit in the child of getting to bed early. The parent often must wait until the child himself or herself actually appreciates the benefits of such a healthy habit.

Many parents can lighten the load of responsibility by building some entertainment into the bedtime routine. This may work for some, while other parents will have various other side-line activities or little games they play with their children while teaching them good habits.

There is no set bed time that will fit every child and every family. A lot of individual discretion has to be used. Sometimes a trial and error approach works best until an agreeable but beneficial bed time is set. The results, however, will be worth the time and effort put into teaching your child the benefits of getting enough sleep. When it comes to bed time routines and parental responsibilities, any manipulation that is done with love and kindness at heart is perfectly fine. Patience and continuing efforts will pay off in the end.


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