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Bedtime Battles: How to Prevent Common Bedtime Disruptions for a Smooth Bedtime Routine

ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years consistency routines screen time sleep Oct 04, 2023

Bedtime should be a calming period filled with snuggles and well wishes for another wonderful day to come tomorrow.  However, bedtime can sometimes feel more like a battleground when it comes to getting your kids to settle down and go to sleep.  Children can be experts at finding creative ways to stall bedtime, whether it's by suddenly needing a drink or a bathroom break, claiming they're not tired, needing to ask just one more question or other bedtime disruptions.  In this post, we’ll explore five common bedtime disruptions and provide strategies for parents to plan ahead and respond effectively, ensuring a smooth bedtime routine.


This post on bedtime disruptions is part four of a four-part series on sleep hygiene.   Sleep hygiene refers to making your entire sleep routine and environment conducive with getting a good night’s sleep.  To get caught up on the first three posts, see Master Your Child’s Bedtime Routine, Is Your Child’s Room Conducive With Sleep?, and Why Consistent Bedtimes are Important at All Ages.  Establishing a healthy bedtime and a calming bedtime routine, along with ensuring your child’s room is decorated in a way that aids in the bedtime routine, are the initial steps parents can take to minimize bedtime disruptions.  As a quick refresher, let’s begin by reviewing how parents can plan ahead for a smooth bedtime routine.


Planning Ahead for a Smooth Bedtime Routine

  1. Establish Consistent Bedtime Rituals

Creating a predictable bedtime routine helps signal to your child that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.  Consistency is key, so establish a sequence of activities that you can follow every night, such as brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, reading a bedtime story, and saying goodnight.


  1. Set Clear Expectations

Communicate with your child about the importance of sleep and the bedtime routine.  Explain that a good night's rest helps them grow, learn, and have energy for the next day's activities.  Setting clear expectations helps children understand the purpose of bedtime and reduces resistance.


  1. Create a Calm Environment

Make your child's bedroom a soothing and sleep-friendly space.  Dim the lights, use blackout curtains if necessary, and ensure the room is at a comfortable temperature.  Remove distractions like electronic devices and toys that may tempt them to stay awake.  Consider incorporating calming elements such as a white noise machine and cozy bedding to create a peaceful atmosphere.


  1. Use Visual Aids

Visual aids, such as a bedtime routine chart or a timer, can help children understand and follow the steps of their bedtime routine independently.  This empowers them to take ownership of their bedtime routine and reduces the need for constant reminders or negotiations.  Display the visual aids in their bedroom or bathroom where they can easily refer to them.


How to Minimize Common Bedtime Disruptions

Even after you’ve got all those steps down and you’ve done the prep work to help the bedtime process flow as smoothly as possible, you may still run into occasional bedtime disruptions.  Keep in mind that there are legitimate reasons for kids to stall at bedtime, and you should explore the reasoning for why your little one seems to be delaying the bedtime process; perhaps they feel like they don’t get enough time with you during the day, so you need to plan some extra bonding time on the weekends, or perhaps they saw something scary on TV and are worried about having bad dreams, so you need to spend some time talking about the safety of your home and consider watching different shows.  Nonetheless, sufficient sleep is essential for developing children, and it is important to adhere to an age-appropriate bedtime by minimizing bedtime disruptions.  I’ll walk you through five of the most common bedtime disruptions and provide both a prevention strategy and a response strategy for each one.

  1. Requesting Food or Drinks

Kids may suddenly express hunger or thirst at bedtime, either because they genuinely feel hungry or thirsty or because they’re hoping to delay the lights-out moment.  Either way, it's important to establish boundaries to maintain a consistent bedtime routine, and that can be done without neglecting your child’s physical needs.


Prevention Strategy: Offer a balanced dinner and possibly a small, healthy snack before bedtime to ensure your child is adequately nourished.  Encourage them to have a final drink of water before the bedtime routine begins.  Be sure to mention that these will be the last times that food and/or drink are offered before bedtime.


Response Strategy: If your child asks for food or drinks at bedtime, remind them that they've already had their dinner/snack and their last sip of water and that it's time to rest now.  Offer reassurance that they can have a drink and breakfast in the morning.  If they persist, provide a brief and calm response, redirecting their attention back to the bedtime routine.


  1. Bathroom Breaks

Does the need for a bathroom break seem to arise magically as soon as bedtime approaches?  Kids may use this as an opportunity to extend their bedtime routine, but you don’t want to neglect a legitimate physical need.


Prevention Strategy: Encourage your child to use the bathroom before starting the bedtime routine.  Or consider having a trip to the bathroom be the very last thing you do before tucking them in.  Mention that this will be the last potty break before bedtime.  If your child frequently says they need another trip to the bathroom before going to sleep, limit their fluid intake close to bedtime to minimize the need for frequent bathroom breaks.


Response Strategy: If your child requests a bathroom break, allow them to go, but keep the interaction brief and avoid engaging in conversations or play.  Remind them that it's time to return to bed and continue with the bedtime routine.  Another strategy if they have just used the restroom and say they need to go again is to say that you’ve already snuggled and tucked them in, so it’s okay for them to go but that you’re going “off duty” for the night, so they’ll need to get themselves tucked back in again.  They may find they actually don’t need to go that badly anymore.  


  1. Claiming Not to Be Tired

Kids have an uncanny ability to suddenly become wide awake when bedtime rolls around.  They may insist that they're not tired and try to negotiate for more playtime or screen time.  To confirm you are using an age-appropriate bedtime and for more information on signs that your child might be ready for a later bedtime as they mature, see Why Consistent Bedtimes are Important at All Ages.


Prevention Strategy: Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes wind-down activities like reading, dimming lights, or listening to soft music. This routine signals to their bodies that it's time to relax and prepare for sleep.  Additionally, ensure that your child gets enough physical activity during the day to tire them out naturally.


Response Strategy: Acknowledge your child's feelings but gently remind them that their body needs rest to grow and be healthy.  Offer reassurance that they will feel refreshed and energized in the morning if they get to bed on time.  Stick to the established routine and avoid engaging in negotiations or power struggles.


  1. Fears, Worries, and Bad Dreams

Sometimes, children attempt to postpone bedtime due to fear of a noise they heard, the bedroom being too dark, or other worries, including a bad dream they had recently.


Prevention Strategy: Address any fears or worries during the day so your child feels safe and secure during the bedtime routine.  Perhaps you can develop a mantra that can be repeated at bedtime, like, “I am safe and loved in my home, and Mommy and Daddy are nearby.”  Follow-up with succinct reassurance before bedtime.  Create a calm and comforting environment in their bedroom with a nightlight, a tuck-in lullaby or soft white noise, and a favorite stuffed animal.


Response Strategy: Acknowledge their concerns but keep the interaction brief and focused on the bedtime routine.  Offer reassurance and remind them that they are safe and loved.  Encourage them to share their worries or fears earlier in the day so they don't become bedtime disruptions.  It is important to minimize attention given to these issues at bedtime to be sure it does not serve as positive reinforcement, accidentally increasing the likelihood of future disruptions (see Understanding Reinforcement vs. Punishment).


  1. Sneaking Books or Digital Devices

Some older children are avid readers and can't resist the temptation of a good book, even when it's time for bed.  They may hide books under their pillow or in their pajama pockets, hoping to squeeze in a few extra minutes of reading.  While it's wonderful to encourage a love for reading, bedtime is not the ideal time for it.  Other kids may be tempted to sneak extra screen time at bedtime.  There’s plenty of time during the day to satiate any digital cravings.


Prevention Strategy: Create a designated reading time earlier in the evening, allowing your child to enjoy their books without cutting into sleep time.  Set clear boundaries that books should stay outside the bedroom once bedtime arrives.  Establish a clear Family Screen Time Schedule so kids know when digital devices are allowed.  Have a visible family digital devices charging area outside of bedrooms so it’s clear when phones, iPads, etc., are in use.


Response Strategy: Be sure to praise your child when you see them put away their book or plug in their device before bedtime.  If your child tries to sneak a book or digital device into bed, gently remind them that it's time to sleep and offer reassurance that they can continue reading/watching/gaming the next day.  For repeated offenses, a fair consequence may be implemented.  Just be sure to notify your child of the potential consequences in advance, so they have the opportunity to make a good decision and avoid the consequences.


Take-Home Message

Bedtime disruptions can be challenging, but with a little planning and consistency, you can overcome any bedtime delays that arise and establish a smooth bedtime routine for your child.  By understanding common issues that arise at bedtime, such as needing one more trip to the bathroom, requesting last-minute food or drinks, or having a specific fear or worry, you can implement prevention and response strategies to address these behaviors effectively.  Remember to plan ahead by establishing consistent bedtime rituals, setting clear expectations, creating a calm environment, and using visual aids to support your child's understanding and independence.  With patience, consistency, and a positive attitude, you can transform bedtime battles into peaceful and restful evenings for the entire family.  Think about whether any of these common bedtime disruptions have found their way into your bedtime routine, and try out the prevention and response strategies outlined in today’s post.  Wishing you and your family many peaceful nights of sleep!


Bedtime Disruptions are part of the Consistency category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!

P.S. To learn more about how to regulate digital media usage in your family and establish a manageable, personalized Family Screen Time Schedule, check out my Screen Time Masterclass.  Continue your journey to becoming an amazing parent with this value-loaded Masterclass on screen time for children of all ages. Imagine feeling confident about the protocol you set in place for your family’s screen usage and confident that your children will stick with the plan.  Plus, there is a must-have add-on lesson focusing on social media.  I can’t wait to guide you to screen time success.  Check out my Screen Time Masterclass.

Also, to build your bedtime story library, check out my Treasures - Books for a wonderful resource of books and book series that have been treasured by our family.


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