Is bedtime at your house a cruel and unyielding nightmare? Are your kids not getting off Netflix? Are they begging to stay up, whining for snacks, and then shouting for you fretfully after lights-out? Well, read on. We’ve got the medicine. All kids occasionally have a rough time transitioning to slumber, but this can be helped by setting up the right conditions and routine to encourage truly great sleep. Hop on board with these easy-to-establish guidelines below and your kids will sleep more hours at night and be more pleasant when awake – all while giving you more of that precious, precious Parent Time After Bedtime.
TL;DR Summary: How to Get Your Kids to Go to Sleep
The best way to make bedtime a pleasurable and expeditious venture is to have a plan and stick to it. Children thrive in routine and thus the more you can make your hard transitions a consistent experience, the happier they’ll be. That usually means an easier time getting them to quiet down and be ready for sleep, which makes a happier you. Yay! That’s symmetry right there.
Our Best Advice
No matter what plan you have, it’s important to have a plan. As long as it’s a plan and it’s consistent, it’ll help. Not sure what plan is the right plan? We like this one:
- No screens the last 90 minutes before bedtime
- Get their bedroom ready for sleep (dark/blackout shades, turn down the temp a little, have some light soothing music playing. Essential oils anyone?)
- A protein-rich snack 60 minutes before bedtime
- Give them a 10-minute warning before jammies and teeth brushing
- Stories, snuggles, and focused attention with them for 10-20 minutes (or whatever is realistic. But more is better for getting them to sleep when it’s possible)
- Lights out!
Now hurry, Game of Thrones starts in 20 minutes.*
If all that sounds great, but you still have questions, no worries. We go deep on everything you need to know, so just keep reading!
Your Kids Will Sleep: The set-up
- Turn-off and/or hide all screens 90 minutes before bedtime. This is the most important part! The light and overstimulation of tablets and TVs negatively affect your child’s entire night of sleep. According to the University of Colorado, 90% of children’s sleep issues are linked to watching those dancing screens before bedtime! Get rid of the hypnotic blue light and you’re already halfway to a rested kid!
- Ready the bedroom for sleep.
- Setting the thermostat is the key starting place- the ideal temperature for deep sleep is 60 to 67 degrees.
- Light coming in through the windows gets in the way of sleep, so consider buying some blackout curtains. You can get them on Amazon for like $16 bucks, so just do it. I can tell you from experience that your kids will go to sleep faster and wake up later. And sweet sweet science backs this up.
- Your precious cherubs will take flight to dreamland easier with the soothing sound of a fan and/or some sleep music or lullabies. Amazon and iTunes have tons of great sleep playlists and albums. My kids have been passing out to this one for over 5 years now. It’s free on iTunes, so why not try it out?
- And, dab some lilac or other peaceful essential oils about the room. Consider a nightlight diffuser. We just got one and it’s been awesome.
Our BEST routine
Your 3- to 8-year-old requires anywhere between 10-13 hours of sleep per night. That’s a grip of time so get them snoozing early! Not only is sleep spectacular for brain and body development but an early bedtime provides you very necessary kid-free hours every eve. As we all know, not being subjected to children for a while is a requirement for parental mental health.
Most Important: Once you establish a regular bedtime routine, do not deviate from it. Your child’s natural clock will set to the schedule and they will come to depend on the consistency. Willy-nilly sleeping leads to behavior issues, low-cognitive functioning, relationship problems, and unfun mornings. Obviously, life happens. And your kids will be fine when life just requires some flexibility. Remember, they won’t turn into total turds with one missed bedtime, but it will impact their schedule for a few days, so try to be consistent as much as you can.
This is my kids’ general routine. Of course, cheerfully adjust the times according to your lifestyle and wake-up time. Just make certain to create a schedule allowing your child a 10-12 hour sleep opportunity.
The Wind Down:
6:30 pm (or 90 minutes to bedtime): Turn on quiet music and soft light. Set out a small selection of crayons, crafts, puzzles or other peaceful activities for your child to engage in. If possible, do not do this in the same room your child sleeps in. I pop my kids in their pajamas at this time too. It sets the tone for relaxation. Consider staying off screens yourself during this time. Model what you want your kids to do. Read a book. Draw. Play a board game. Heck, you’ll sleep better too.
7:00 pm: Serve a small, high protein snack to get them through the night. A couple slices of cheese, some crackers, and some carrots always work. I hear some kids like cinnamon milk, which is a bomb of protein and the cinnamon evens out blood sugar until the morning light. Whatever you give them, stay away from sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. General rule: if it tastes sweet, save it for the light of day.
7:15 pm: Give your child a 10-minute warning. “In 10 minutes it’s time for teeth, bathroom, and bed.”
Pro Tip: Want a battle-free transition? Then use these timers. Just place the 10-minute timer near your child after saying the sentence frame. Watching the sand slip away gives them a sense of time and control.
Optional Bath Time! If you want to toss a bath in there, GREAT! Then add that to the routine and give the warning at 7:00ish instead.
7:30 pm: Brush teeth, go to the bathroom, and crawl into bed. This process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Depending on your kid’s age and abilities they may do this alone or need your assistance. You know your kid.
7:40 pm: This is an essential ingredient for a good night’s sleep. Read books with your kid, tell them stories, discuss the day or tomorrow’s plans. These 20 minutes should be uninterrupted quality time with your child. So be present, listen, and check-in. (I usually read my kids 3 books and then tell them two more stories off the top of my head after lights-out. This all but guarantees a swift blackout).
8:00 pm: Say goodnight. Some parents like to lay with their kids until they fall asleep. Some walk out of the room after story time is through. Everyone seems to have an opinion of the right way to do it. I don’t. Whatever your preference, just try and follow the exact same procedure every night.
Note: Although this is a 90 minute routine. It only really requires 20-30 minutes of your uninterrupted time. And after your children are asleep, you’ll have hours of free time to do whatever grown-person stuff you want! Like probably go straight to bed.
If you have followed this 90 minute routine as prescribed, your child should be asleep in 5 minutes of lights-out. If your kids’ normal routine has been watching Paw Patrol until they blackout at 10 pm, then KNOW that this will be a rough transition.
Explaining It All to Your Child
Once you’ve established the best sleep schedule for your kid, communicate it! Sit down with your child when they are cheerful and receptive. Explain that to get smart, strong, and stay healthy, they need 10-12 hours of sleep every night. And that you, as a parent, are going to help them get all that needed rest because y’all are a team! Remember, explain this happily and with a song in your heart. This is not a punishment. This is fun! Right?
Here’s how I frame it with my kids.
Low & Slow Time:
“We are going to turn off all screens and put on calm lights. We’ll get our PJs on. You can color, draw, play board games, or do crafts.”
"You get to have an awesome little snack. We will choose some together at the store!"
(Great job on giving some choice and control to your kid.)
"We are going to brush teeth, go to the bathroom, and get a glass of water and your stuffed camel. Then you’ll have everything to need to sleep. YEE HAW!"
"You get to choose 3 books for us to read! Whatever ones you want. We’ll pick out new ones at the library each week."
(You take your kid to the library to get new books once a week?! Great work.)
"It’s time for lights out. You’ll be snug and safe and tired after a busy day and will fall right asleep."
(Great job using the power of suggestion. Now this plan will definitely work.)
What to Expect When You Try This
You might be thinking that your child is nowhere near capable of handling this bedtime routine. They are. Make no mistake, transitioning into a new routine will be bumpy. But as long as you remain consistent, reaping the fantastic rewards of swiftly slumbering children is a paltry week away.
It’s perfectly OK for your child to sleep on their own, with a sibling, or in your bed, just as long as that sleeping arrangement is consistent. It’s hard to sleep when uncertain, so make your child feel confident and in control with a regular and predictable schedule.
Please remember that establishing a schedule does not mean radically changing your sleeping routine. You are simply systematizing and tightening what you do already. If junior sleeps in mom’s bed every night, no need to change that right away. Just make sure it’s at the same time. If little Margaret has to eat a second meal right before bed, no need to change that either. Just make sure it’s at the same time and packed full of protein. If your kid doesn’t need to wake up till 10 am for figure skating lessons and private tutoring, then adjust the schedule to accommodate your privileged lifestyle. See where I’m going with this? Do what you do. Just do it more purposefully and on an unflinching and uncompromising schedule that provides your kid a 10-12 hour sleep opportunity. That’s it. Easy.
First off, remember that children are also humans. Despite being hard to believe, it’s true. And with that, know that there will be days when nothing will work. A bad day at school, a scary movie three years ago, too many of neighbor lady’s cookies an hour before bed… there will be times when there is no perfect plan and bedtime is just gonna be a disaster. It’s ok. There are nights when you don’t want to go to bed, either. Nights when you can’t sleep. Nights when you can only lie there and think about the pan of brownies sitting in the kitchen. When they have these nights, give them a break. Relate to how frustrating it is and have compassion.
The key to remember is it will be long-term consistency that’s going to help, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be reasonable. The more you treat your children with the respect of being human, the more they’ll trust you, listen to you, and do what you ask.
I tried this and my kid flipped out! What do I do?
Stick with the routine. Be positive and empathetic. Even though you introduced the new schedule, it won’t naturalize for about a week.
“Im sorry you are upset. There are no screens after 6:30. Would you like to color or do a puzzle?”
This sentence frame validates your child’s feelings, re-establishes your unwavering expectation, and then provides replacement activity choices.
I’ve tried this schedule and my kid keeps getting out of bed to ask for water and hugs and stuff. What do I do about that, genius?
Be proactive instead of reactive. If your kid likes derailing your spicy evening plans with constant get-ups and interruptions, set up a better scenario. Right after tuck-in, say this happily and lovingly…
“I am coming back to check on you in five minutes. Here’s your timer." (use the timers I already told you about HERE).
"I’m setting the timer on my phone. I promise to come right back to make sure you are feeling safe.”
Then, actually come back like you said you would. Ask if all is fine. Give a hug or glass of water or whatever. Set the timer again for another 5 minutes. They’ll be asleep when you peek in again or my name isn’t Chris “Manwich” Sullivan!
What you’re doing here is letting them know they’re not alone or abandoned just because it’s bed time. Soon, they’ll know you’re there, know you’re checking on them, and will know they can just drift off without worrying and coming to find you every few minutes. Now, remember our disclaimer, nothing works every single time, but you’re looking for long-term consistency and long-term success. Take the hiccups in stride and know that this routine works, even if some nights are just hard.
My kids aren’t tired that early!
Yes, they are.
*Hahaha, just kidding. They’re never gonna finish the last season.