If you have a toddler, you’re perhaps well-versed in the eternal struggle to get them to sleep. Even parents who’ve had multiple kids get locked into bedtime battles and spend far too much time trying to get their children to stay in bed. No one is judging you if you’ve let them crash on the couch or in your bed because you couldn’t face yet another tantrum at 7 pm.
If you feel like you and your child would benefit from some changes in routine, here are 5 ways to help get your kids to sleep – no bribery included – because everyone deserves a peaceful evening.
1. Treat bedtime as something to be enjoyed
Most parents would relish the chance for a nap in the middle of the day or go to bed early, even if the dinner dishes are still in the sink, but toddlers would rather spend some extra time playing.
One problem can be that some parents use sleep as a punishment, i.e. “if you don’t behave, you’re going to bed”, so children can associate their bed with being bad. No wonder they don’t want to go to bed.
The trick here is to channel Mary Poppins and look for the figurative “spoonful of sugar” that will make them look forward to bedtime. It might be something as simple as them getting alone time with one parent (essential if you have more than one child) or even getting them a car bed for kids that they’re eager to jump into.
Take your time with bedtime and don’t keep checking your phone. By letting them feel that you’re enjoying the special time spent with them they may just want to join in all the fun.
2. Try essentials oils
Essential oils, like lavender and cedarwood, can help children sleep better. You can buy spritzers, creams, diffusers, bubble bath, and even fabric softener for bed sheets and pyjamas. Now these are not magic, of course, but setting a peaceful mood may help take some of the tension away from the dreaded bedtime routine.
Safety note: Never apply raw essential oils directly to the skin or leave an oil diffuser in a child’s reach.
3. (Re-)establish a sleep routine
Most of us are currently experiencing major disruption to our lives and are craving our routines, something you might not have expected. Everyone benefits from routine and children with a nighttime routine go to sleep earlier, tend to fall asleep faster, wake less frequently in the night, and sleep longer.
This routine can be something very simple: bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, book, bed. As your toddler gets into the routine, they’ll become accustomed to feeling tired after getting out of the bath and falling asleep when you read to them. And knowing what’s to come is a very reassuring thing for a small child, so it takes any anxiety (or excitement of what’s next?) off the table.
A great way to get your child directly involved with establishing and maintaining a routine is by having the routine printed off as a visual reminder, with images to represent all the stages. You can even ask them to prompt you about it.
4. Play a game
If this doesn’t work, try a bit of role reversal with your kids. Way before their actual bedtime, tell them that they get to be the parent and they have to try and put you to bed. You can sneak out of the room so that they have to find you, cry a little so they check on you, or even bargain with them to let you stay up later.
Follow your child’s lead and pay attention to how they put you to bed especially. It can be a window into how they see you at bedtimes; something they might not be able to put into words for you outside of playing it.
5. Help them through their fears
A lot of kids are scared of the dark or monsters under the bed, but don’t write off their fears; validate and hear them. Ask them what would help them feel safer, whether it’s a soft nightlight that shows them it’s just a dressing gown on the back of the door or a “magic fairy” that sits on their bedside table to keep them safe. (That’s a true story. We bought her on sale after Christmas and she “protected” me and my siblings for years.)
By giving a toddler some power over small items you choose (like what kind of pajamas they want to wear, what book they read, do they get the magical fairy/nightlight on) they’ll feel less out of control and it won’t have to turn into a power struggle each night.
Try some or all of these things to see what works for your family and remember that the best way to get a child to sleep is the one that works for you. Also, try not to judge yourself against other parents on social media. Every child is unique, your families are not the same and parenting is not a competition. Nighty night!