My preschooler won’t go to bed!
Secrets to improving bedtime and conquering bedtime struggles.
Bedtime is a struggle for almost every mom-of-preschoolers that I know. Do you share the same love-hate relationship with bedtime that we do? After Micah fought his best (worst?) a few nights in a row, I decided our routine needed a change. So I gathered all the successful tips I could find to share with you!
Make the Room Sleep-friendly
I’ve got a whole post about this here. Basically, the room needs to feel safe and cozy. It should only have quiet-time friendly toys, and a sleep-friendly atmosphere.
We start our bedtime routine at 7pm. There is a clock in the living room so our 4 year old can see that it’s time. This is early enough that he’s not crabby. He’s often awake in his room until between 8 and 9, but some days he’s ready for bed at 730, so earlier is better. Bedtime will vary depending on your family’s schedule and previous routines.
We start our bedtime routine by having a snack (optional) while we read 3-4 books together. This is a time to transition from wiggling during play to sitting still and calming down for bed.
Brush your Teeth
Kids have baby teeth that will fall out, so getting them perfectly clean may not seem like a big deal. Some of those teeth stay until they are 11 or 12, though, so they are important teeth. Establishing tooth-brushing in the routine is also important for having good habits. We got “special” toothbrushes and “special” toothpaste (yes, they are all Paw Patrol) and we brush all the bugs away.
Sidenote: The bug thing creeped me out at first, but little bugs digging holes in your teeth is a lot easier to imagine than bacteria causing cavities, and it caught on quickly with my preschooler.
Giggle and joke and laugh. Imagine a world without bedtime. Or if blankets were as soft as sheep. Or if teeth never needed brushing. Play along with your words while your bodies keep working through the bedtime tasks. It’s a lot more fun than yelling at them to keep moving.
What started as snuggle time to read a book and pray together turned into play time with my preschooler. We sit on his floor and do what he wants until the timer dings. It lasts about 10 minutes. Could be a book, or legos, or talking construction. Either way it’s special mommy-Micah time to be together before bed.
Use a Timer
I set a timer for 30 minutes when we start the bedtime routine. So if they wiggle and don’t do as they are told, it takes longer to get to the snuggle portion, and there is less time left for snuggling. This is a natural consequence. Plus, then the timer gets the responsibility of saying snuggle time is over instead of me.
Which pajamas, which bedtime snack, door open or closed. Offer choices when you can, so it doesn’t seem like you are simply giving commands all night long. Offering choices gives you wiggle room for consequences too: “You can have your door open, but if you come out I’ll have to close it” etc.
Let him Decide when to Sleep
This is where most of the toys come into play. I will let my preschooler play in his room until he’s ready to put himself in bed. Sometimes he’ll play for 5 minutes, sometimes for an hour. Surprisingly, he puts himself to bed when he gets tired. Some nights he’ll call out his door to have me come tuck him in. Some nights he’ll sit in his bed and look at books until he falls asleep. So, it’s not a fight to make him stay in bed when he’s not tired enough to fall asleep yet.
Have Positive Rewards
Not only does doing the routine nicely mean more time is left for snuggling, but we also have rewards. Doing the routine nicely means they earn a sticker on the sticker chart. Going to sleep nicely (no throwing fits or getting up for bad reasons throughout the night) earns a sticker in the morning. On our chart, 5 stickers gets a prize from the prize bucket. We discussed the rewards in advance, no surprises.
We also discussed consequences in advance, because sometimes good rewards aren’t enough motivation. The easiest is natural consequences. Like, if you come out of your room, the door will have to stay closed. If you don’t put a toy away before reading time, the toy goes into the “black hole”. If you throw a toy, it goes in the “black hole”. If you yell or hit, I leave the room. The black hole works well for lots of things!
Have a Good Attitude
If you go into bedtime thinking it’s going to be quick and done, or thinking it’s going to be miserable, it’s not going to go well. Go into it knowing it’s going to take about 30 minutes. Knowing they are going to push the limits. Knowing you are going to have to stick to your guns about brushing teeth, how many books, leaving the when the timer dings, and more. Knowing there are going to be bad days, whiny days, crying days, begging for more days. Knowing they are kids, they aren’t perfect, and you need to lead them lovingly to good behavior. And knowing that a day will come when they won’t want to snuggle and read books anymore.
It can take a few nights or longer to get used to a new routine. Stick to your guns and be consistent with how things go. Don’t give in to tantrums and whining, because it will just keep happening. Kids need to know what to expect, so once they know how the night will go, things will get better.
Moms and dads, any other suggestions? Good luck!