Establishing a Positive Approach to Bedtime

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog

Are you and your child waging a daily war as bed time approaches? Do you feel stressed and anxious as you think of the inevitable struggle that’s become an ongoing event in your home? First, be assured this is a common issue, and second, know that your child is not being “difficult” but most likely has anxiety about being separated from you. This separation anxiety may arise for a number of reasons—some obvious and some not so obvious. Keep in mind that while they may not be able to verbalize many of their thoughts, toddlers and young children are highly sensitive and can sense stress and conflict in their environment. Being “difficult” or “acting out” may be their best attempt to try to communicate distress.

Establishing a predictable and positive bedtime tradition is key to making bedtime one you and your child can use to feel close and have fun while preparing your little one’s transition to sleep so you can put your feet up, catch up on chores, enjoy some alone time, or snuggle with your partner. Most importantly, make sure you allocate plenty of time for your child’s bedtime routine. This may mean pushing meal time up a little earlier. You want to create a bedtime tradition that your child eagerly looks forward to. Children love music so much and it’s a great transitional tool that teachers use frequently. And the beauty of bath time is that it not only teaches good self care and cleanliness, it relaxes your child’s muscles and has a calming effect.

At the appointed time, give your child a ten-minute advance notice that bath time is coming up. Put on some fun CDs of children’s songs and encourage your child to dance and sing as he/she gets undressed and you fill the bath with warm water, bubbles, and toys for playing.  You’ll be surprised how much longer children will enjoy bath time if they have music in the background that they can sing along to as they play. Encourage your child to think of bath time as one of quiet, enjoyable play, not just the means of getting clean that is a precursor to bed. Your child may be happy in the bathtub for up to a half hour or more. When ready, help your child out and into pajamas. Have a comfy chair selected, ideally in their bedroom or a quiet part of the home for reading. (Be firm about how many books your child can choose). Some parents may prefer to read books in the child’s bed. When reading is done, sing a couple of songs before you tuck in your child for the night. For children who are having an especially hard time separating from parents or are fearful of the dark, always be open to leaving on a night light in the room and leaving the door ajar. For these children, allowing them to fall asleep to a lullaby or story CDs is a good option as it focuses their attention away from anxious thoughts that may be interfering with sleep