Bedtime: The Struggle is Real
Updated: Sep 26
How’s bedtime going?
Back to school means back to earlier, busy mornings. Getting enough sleep can truly be a game changer as we settle into school time routines. And yet, bedtime is one time of day that things can really go off the rails. From not falling asleep, not staying asleep, resisting bedtime, bad dreams, trouble settling down, parent stress levels, bedwetting, we parents have our work cut out for us.
If you’re finding yourself in a bedtime battle, we’ve been there. While we can’t claim to have the answer, we do have strategies that might help reframe how to approach bedtime.
It’s always a good idea to start with the basics when weeding out how things might be going off track. Consider:
Does your bedtime routine need a reboot? Sometimes we as parents unwittingly make bedtime a battle. Starting bedtime too early (or too late) can prolong the process. Also as children get older, less parent involvement can help them settle into a “big kid” routine.
When was dinner? Throughout the early childhood years children’s appetites will wax and wane and so will their digestive rhythms. For some kids, having a full belly close to bedtime can rev them up. Other times, hungry rumblings can make it hard to settle.
Are bathroom needs at play? Needing the bathroom can be a stalling tactic or a real need. Limit drinks before bedtime to rule out this workaround even little kiddos are quick to figure out.
Are physiological changes at work? Growth spurts and growing pains are real. Some kiddos are more sensitive to the feelings of growing. Some may complain of achiness or restlessness. Bones really do grow more during sleep!
Are there new fears in the mix? Did they see or overhear something that frightened them - from a sibling, the news, a conversation, even YouTube Kids? Sometimes fears, even irrational ones, can come to mind when little ones are trying to settle down for rest. Think through how you can acknowledge a fear and help them work through it.
Could a QUIET TIME routine help? Some kiddos need a longer transition from awake time to sleep time. If that’s the case, building in a quiet time routine can help signal it’s time to settle. Keep quiet time as a dedicated time when they can move about, and maybe even play in their sleep space with items you have deemed appropriate. A basket of favorite books, small stuffed animals, legos or puzzles often work well. Dimming the lights can signal that this kind of play is different from other times of play.
What energy do we parents bring to bedtime? Sometimes parents are tense or unclear about expectations. Our energy and attitude around bedtime can impact bedtime. When we’re nervous, stressed or distracted, children feel it. Check in on your own feelings about bedtime. Take a break if you can. Have a partner, caregiver or family member take over bedtime for a few nights if possible.
Are kids craving time with you? Even negative attention can feed the urge to find ways to connect with a parent. If you’re getting push back and a constant string of requests, rethink your time pre-bedtime. Setting aside an uninterrupted 10 minutes to give your child your undivided attention before the bedtime routine begins can help soothe that need.
When all else fails, find your NO. We go back to this concept so often at Work & Play. Sometimes the missing piece to a parent-child struggle is us just saying NO. No to staying up later. No to more stories. No to getting out of bed repeatedly. We won’t sugar coat it, this is HARD. You will not get cheers and platitudes for saying NO. In fact, you will initially get more pushback and struggle. However, when a no is consistent and real, said with love and clarity, children will often eventually accept it and you will see progress.
Have you asked them what’s going on? If your child is verbal, ask them. In a quiet moment, away from bedtime and with kindness. Share with them that bedtime seems hard for them. Tell them that it is hard for you, too, and that you want to help them if you can. Sometimes they can tell you just what it is and you can support them as they begin to work through it.
Have you checked in with your pediatrician? Sometimes the bedtime struggle is a medical issue. If you are at a loss for what’s happening, check in with your child’s doctor. They may have insights as well.
Whether 2 years old or 15 years old, a night without enough sleep can mean a hard next day for everyone involved. Hang in there. Trust your gut. Lean on your support system. Keep doing the messy work of parenting.