What is it about bedtime that inspires such rebellion from even the sweetest of kids? Suddenly they develop serious FOMO and insist on another hour of play—which leads to a power struggle to cap off the day.
On these nights, it may feel hard to muster a positive attitude. But the truth is that’s when it’s most important for everyone.
“Bedtime is often experienced by children as a form of separation, so children need the reassurance of connection to help them let go and sleep well,” says Kate Orson, a Hand-in-Hand instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children. “It’s also a time of day when feelings tend to bubble up that haven’t been processed in the day, so for positive parents, it’s actually one of the most important times of day.”
As you’re getting ready to end the day on a good note, here are a few positive parenting techniques that can help:
1. Practice your self-care before
As parents, we sometimes forget how important it is take time to focus on our needs. This leaves us frazzled and stressed, which can make it harder to follow through with your child’s bedtime routine.
Practice self-care during the day so you can be fully present for your little one at night. That could mean reading a book, hitting the gym, painting or doing whatever hobby or interest you like. (Here are 30 more ideas you can squeeze in during nap time.)
2. Work with your child to create a bedtime ritual
Bedtime rituals are important, especially for children. A 2015 Monographs of the Society of Research in Child Development study found that a consistent routine allows your little one to develop good sleep habits that help them fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up refreshed.
But don’t just aim to create a bedtime ritual on your own; instead, work with your kid. Get their advice so you know what nighttime routines are important to them. You may come to find out that reading a story and giving them three stuffed animals are the keys to better sleep.
3. Start winding down early
One way to avoid unnecessary stress and struggle is to start the bedtime ritual at least an hour before you plan to tuck in your kid. Having this 60-minute buffer gives you more time to wind down and help your kid burn off extra energy without trying to rush them under the covers.
This also gives you more time to bond with your child, which research shows can help your kids learn to connect better with others. “Positive parenting at bedtime is an investment,” Orson tells Motherly. “They’ll be times, especially at first, when it makes bedtime take a little longer. However as time goes on, positive parenting makes bedtime easier because it can be a way to deal with the feelings that make bedtime hard for children.”
4. Respect your child’s time
No one likes to be rushed when they’re in the middle of a project or activity. The same goes for children at nighttime: If you abruptly stop what they’re doing, they may become anxious, which makes it harder to get them to sleep.
Instead, respect your child’s time and give them a 15- to 20-minute head’s up before starting their bedtime ritual so they can finish up whatever activity they are doing.
5. Offer choices, not orders
One key part of positive parenting is allowing your child to feel control over what happens to them. You can do this by offering them choices—not orders—at bedtime.
A few ideas for options:
- Which pajamas do they want to wear?
- Which stuffed animal should snuggle with them?
- Which book should you read together?
- Which song should you sing?
Orson says that by giving them choices like these, you are helping them build up confidence and a stronger senses of self.
6. Laugh about it
You’ve know the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine”? Turns out, it’s true: A 2007 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that laughter can help release melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.
Before putting your kid to bed, wind them down by winding them up. Consider having a pillow fight, dancing around or playing a chase game so they can burn off the excess energy, feel closer to you and sleep better at night.
And remember: “When playing with children, it’s good to let them have the more powerful role, and be the one to knock you over or win the fight,” Orson says. “This helps them to gain confidence and not feel to overwhelmed.”
7. Relax and breathe
After you and your child have finished laughter play, take a few minutes to relax and breathe. You can do yoga or meditate together as a way to feel calm and relaxed. Having that moment of quiet reflection will bring you two closer together and help make the rest of your bedtime ritual more peaceful.
8. Connect + cuddle with your child
Just like you, your child is overwhelmed with feelings that can interrupt their sleep. Taking the time to first connect and cuddle can help ease their minds.
Ask them questions about their day and how they’re feeling so they process and let go of those emotions that are affecting their behaviors.
“Positive parenting at bedtime can be a time to listen to our children’s deepest fears and worries, whether directly in conversation, or indirectly, through our child’s behavior,” Orson says. “It can help children sleep better, when they feel better connected to the parent, and have their feelings heard.”
9. Have a long goodbye
When your kid is experiencing separation anxiety, having a long goodbye could help them cope with the feelings that are getting in the way of their sleep.
Orson suggests that, when you’re ready to leave, move out of the room slowly. If your child cries, stay with them and comfort them with hugs so that you give them “the space and safety to have these feelings heard,” she says. Then slowly begin to leave the room once more.
“One night they might have a big cry about being separated from us," Orson tells Motherly. “If we can work through the feelings, it may mean that a few nights later, they feel happy and safe to sleep alone, and have gained confidence in other areas of their life, as they let go of their fears.”
Soon enough your child will drift off to sweet dreams—and you can feel extra good about the day as you settle in for some rest, too.