The Secret to Getting Little Kids to Go to Sleep at Night

The Secret to Getting Little Kids to Go to Sleep at Night

Because little kids love to delay bedtime, tips to help encourage a good sleep routine.

By Judy Koutsky

For most of us parents, getting young kids to sleep at night is a constant and never-ending battle. It’s the one thing I wish I could outsource (I would gladly pay someone to come in for an hour to get my kids to sleep and then I could slip back in when I hear the first snores). We asked the experts for tips on this common parenting issue -- things to do and things to avoid.

1. Set a routine. Babies and toddlers (and all children, really) thrive on routine and
predictability. Simply put, they like to know what is going to happen next. With a bedtime routine, you're creating a series of steps that you'll follow every single night, so that your child will be able to predict when he or she is expected to sleep and there are no surprises or disappointments, says Whitney Roban, PhD, pediatric sleep specialist and clinical psychologist. The routine can be as simple as dinner, bath, book, and then bed. “Being 100 percent consistent with routines and schedules helps parents stay on track with the sleep rules they set up for their children,” Roban says.

2. Keep bedtime the same time each night. If bedtime is at 7 p.m., then it should be at 7 p.m. every night, no exceptions. Plus, don’t make it too late. “Make bedtime early enough so the kids are not overtired,” says Roban. “Keep a digital clock in the living room and bedroom so kids have a concrete way of knowing when bedtime is approaching.” Then give five- and 10-minute warnings, so kids are prepared. Overtired kids are cranky and will put up more of a fight to go to sleep.

3. Eliminate stimuli. The goal is to try and create a soothing environment for kids before bedtime, so exercising or wrestling right before bed is not a good idea. Also out? Electronics before bed. “The blue light that our electronic devices emit can stimulate the brain and prevent the release of melatonin, which helps our bodies to fall asleep,” says Andrea Stephenson, clinical psychologist.

More from P&G everyday: The 5 Inevitable Stages of Co-Sleeping With Your Big Kid

4. Prepare for bed 45 minutes ahead of time. Be sure to start the process of getting ready for bed 30-45 minutes before your child should be in bed. Any shorter and your child will feel too rushed, while any longer invites stall tactics, says Joan Simeo Munson, school adjustment counselor.

5. Give the kids a choice (within limits). Kids will often push limits when it comes to bedtime, and while the time they go to bed isn’t up for discussion (this should be determined by the parents, not the kids), you can give kids a sense of control by giving them a choice in other things, says Diana Bigham, family therapist. For example, you can ask if they want to brush their teeth first or put on their pajamas. Or, they can decide between reading a book or having a parent tell a story. This allows your child to understand that they do get choices and have some independence but that the actual bedtime isn’t one of them.


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Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of, AOL Parent and Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

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