Stop the bedtime battle without losing your cool

Does this bedtime battle sound familiar to you?

You announce that it’s time to start getting ready for bed. Right on cue (just like they do every night), they start dragging their bodies around or complaining they don’t want to go to bed. Maybe they start bouncing on the couch or running and bumping into each other.

Or perhaps like mine they all head to the bathroom at once and chaos ensues. Someone hit someone else. He stole my toothbrush. And then… tears.

It’s so hard to keep your cool in these moments, isn’t it? They were literally fine 5 minutes ago. What the heck happened? And why does bedtime cause a shit-fight of emotions and hyperactivity every… single… night?

bedtime battle

Why does the bedtime battle happen every night?

The bedtime battle can happen for a number of reasons and will be individual to each child. The common behaviours of being “wired” or hyperactive, crying or becoming physical are just the way your child is communicating to you that some BIG emotions are happening for them right now.

They might be feeling:

  • anxiety over being separated from you for the next 10 or so hours
  • your stress about bedtime and needing to get them to sleep so you can have some time (ever noticed that the more you rush them the harder it becomes to get them to sleep?)
  • worried about missing out on something fun while they’re asleep
  • emotional about something that happened during the day
  • over-tired and lacking their usual ability to emotionally regulate

How to avoid the bedtime battle

While nothing I can tell you will completely stop your kids from becoming emotional and displaying big energy at bedtime; I’ve noticed that doing the following with my kids has helped to massively reduce the stress for everyone during this part of our day.

The bedtime battle used to happen every night here. Nowadays most nights are pretty calm and problem free, with the exception of those after overly late nights or super big days.

Let them know bedtime is approaching

I love sleep and I struggle to drag myself away from something I’m enjoying to go to bed. It’s not surprising then that our kiddos protest when we announce out of the blue that it’s bedtime. Now we give them a 15 and a 5 minute reminder that we’re going to be heading to bed soon.

If they’re watching a screen at this time we make sure that they respond to our reminder and pause the show if we have to. (Otherwise they will claim that they had no warning!)

The 5 minute reminder also a good time to let them know it’s time to start finishing or packing up what they’re doing, so you don’t have to fight that battle of them feeling like they want to finish their activity first.

Make time for connection

I think the connection piece is a really important part of reducing the bedtime battle and also looks different for every age group. At 9 and 5 my boys often just want to talk about the plan for the next day or tell me what they did at school or something they’re thinking about.

When they were younger though it was more about physical connection (cuddling, patting, rocking etc). How you connect with your little one will depend on you and your family. Maybe you play a game of drawing letters on their back for them to guess, or tell them a story from your day. Or listen to a meditation together.

Depending on the age of your kids, you might need to stay with them until they fall asleep. This was certainly the case for our boys.

While I know you might feel frustrated by the time this can take (lying next to them while they fall asleep), please trust me when I say you won’t be doing this forever. By 4 years old most kids will fall asleep on their own and by 11 (like my eldest), you’ll be the one seeking out a hug at bedtime and they won’t want to know you.

You can start testing whether they are ready to fall asleep on their own by gradually reducing your proximity to them. Explain that you will sit on the end of the bed while they fall asleep tonight. Then a few nights later (or whenever bedtime with you sitting runs smoothly), move to a chair, gradually further away each night and giving them reassurance when they need it. Eg. “You’re okay. I’m just here. Close your eyes and rest now.”

Eventually you’ll be able to leave the room for short amounts of time and just check on them in a few minutes (to reassure them). Remember you can stop and stay at a stage for any length of time. Maybe your little one needs extra reassurance (because something big is happening in their world) and you stay sitting in their room for a few months.

I think a lot of our stress about the bedtime battle comes from our own expectations of what bedtime should look like. If you’re prepared for it to take some time, and can hold in your heart that it won’t always be this way; you’ll be able to be more patient and the whole routine will run a lot smoother.

Give them a way to release energy before needing to lie still

I thought it was just my kids who went mental as soon as I mentioned bedtime but when I brought this up in my Online Yoga Circle Community there was a resounding response of “us too!”

I now believe that all kids need an opportunity to move and release that last little bit of energy before we ask them to lie still to sleep. This might look like practicing a yoga class like this class below, having a Dad-back ride down the hallway to bed or even just a short dance off (top tip – start with an energetic song and work done to something slower).

Keep your bedtime routine consistent

When we had babies that we were overly consistent with bedtime routines (probably because we were terrified we’d get no sleep if we didn’t stick to it). Now that our kids sleep well we can be a bit more relaxed about what our bedtime routine looks like.

But if we want to avoid the emotional meltdowns we still need to be consistent with a few key things: allowing time to move, making time to connect and a predictable pattern of tasks they can complete on their own or with a little help.

At 11, 9 and 5 our kids can do all the tasks of their bedtime routine on their own, but it always goes much smoother (and avoids the bedtime battle) when I’m around to help them manage the typical problems that come up.

Once we tell them it’s bedtime the next 5 minutes or so is a time for jumping around and getting out the last of their energy before bed. And yes, with 3 boys this often ends up with lounge room wrestling. This used to drive me crazy but now that I expect it, we just allow for this time and there isn’t any stress about it.

After a bit of movement it’s time to brush teeth, go to the toilet and get into bed. If we’re not there in the bathroom with them, typically there ends up being a toothbrush fight, or someone doesn’t cope with another one bumping their arm. Being alongside them at this point in the routine helps it to go much faster and reduces the meltdowns I have to manage after.

My eldest then goes to read on his own, while I lay with the other two to read a story or listen to some music. On busy week nights I might only stay with them for a few songs and to answer whatever questions they have about the next day.

We then have a consistent goodnight routine where I give them both a kiss and a hug and I leave the room. I had to teach them that this was the signal for them to stay and wait until they fall asleep. For a while there my youngest would come back out for all manner of things. I stayed calm and firm in this boundary that there are no other options now other than lying down to sleep (over many nights mind you) and he now puts his arms out for a kiss and cuddle when I leave and rarely tries to come out for extra time.

I don’t want to give you the impression that bedtimes in our house are perfect. They’re not. There are some nights where the two boys keep talking and laughing well after I leave and they need us to come back a few times to remind them to quieten down. But for the most part staying consistent with movement, connection and our predictable routing before we ask them to sleep has made a big difference to how quickly everyone goes to sleep.

Practice patience

I know the feeling of desperately waiting for them to go to sleep so that you can have a minute to yourself. I know the rage that builds the longer they prolong bedtime with requests for “one more drink” or to ask yet another question.

But in spite of feeling all of those things often, I also know that bedtime always runs more smoothly when I’m not in a hurry or trying to rush them through their routine. I know that when I can be empathetic to their need to connect and also hold firm in my boundaries patiently, without getting angry – they always go to sleep faster.

I think this is the most challenging part of the bedtime battle. Another Mum in my Online Yoga Circle said “I’ve finally come to the realization that so much of parenting is actually about the parents (our ability to regulate our emotions, reactions, expectations, triggers, etc) and not about the child. When I’m calmer, so are my kiddos.” and I think that sums it up perfectly.

The biggest challenge to create a calm bedtime is keeping calm yourself.

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