12 peaceful bedtime strategies from a child behavior specialist

How to deal with bedtime resistance, waking in the night and early rising.


Your family's sleep routine is an integral part of the health of your whole family, but sleep issues are one of the most universal parenting struggles. Common problems include bedtime resistance, waking in the night and early rising.

But there's hope: The science of behavior can offer many solutions to these common struggles.

Whether you are dealing with a serious sleep issue or the everyday struggles every parent faces there are evidence-based suggestions that can help your family.

If your child has a serious sleep issue, it is best to first have them evaluated by their pediatrician to make sure there isn't a biological cause for the sleep disturbance. It's also possible that extra support through from a behavior consultant may be needed.

Start with these general proactive strategies and if you are still struggling try one of the intervention strategies or reach out for help.

Proactive strategies to encourage healthy sleep patterns and peaceful bedtimes:

1. Set clear expectations and be consistent

When you make a rule or expectation for your child, be consistent to follow-through on it. If your expectation is that they are in bed by 8 p.m. on school nights, then keep to it. Kids will challenge you more when you are inconsistent. Effective parenting is all about consistency.

2. Incorporate exercise and lots of fresh air

Research shows that exercise helps with sleep. I'm not sure if getting fresh air has any empirical research to back it up or if it's just something grandmothers always say, but it certainly can't hurt.

3. Create an environment for sleep

A quiet, dark, cozy, de-cluttered, toy-free room will be easier to fall asleep in.

4. Set a consistent bedtime routine.

Be consistent with your child's bedtime routine whatever it may be; bath time, story time, or other calming activities. Try to avoid exercise or screen time immediately before bed.

5. Increase your positive attention during the bedtime routine

Before saying the final good night, make sure your child has gotten a high dose of your time and undivided attention—invest in some special time, read, or cuddle. This will decrease the chance that your child will try to get this need met when it is time to go to sleep.

6. Decrease your attention after bidding them good night

After you have given the final good night, minimize your attention. Children often get really creative this time of day and come up with all kinds of philosophical questions about life, death, and our existence; now is not the time to engage; re-direct them to bed with minimal talking or attention.

You don't want to invalidate their concerns, but they need to learn that this is not the best time for additional chatting. Write those questions down so you can make sure to talk about them the next day.

7. Ensure sleep dependencies can be present the whole night

Sleep dependencies are things which are needed to fall asleep. They could be a special blanket, stuffed animal, music, white noise, night light, or parent/sibling. Sleep will be more continuous (less nighttime waking) when those sleep dependencies are available throughout the whole night rather than just at the initial falling asleep period.

This can be tricky if a sleep dependency pattern has already developed with something that is not available throughout the whole night. One strategy for this issue is to replace one sleep dependency, in gradual steps, with another that is available the entire night.

Intervention strategies when bedtime and sleep have become a struggle:

1. Bedtime pass

This is a method that research has demonstrated to be effective with young children (ages 3-10) who are having a hard time staying in bed (calling out, leaving room, endless needs and excuses).

Here's how it works: parents give their child a card (or two) that acts as a bedtime pass which the child can use to get out of their room for whatever they would like (drink of water, bathroom, one more hug, one last philosophical question). It gives them some freedom to leave their room within a clear boundary. When they use their pass, they give it to their parent and then it's gone for the night, and then they need to stay in their bed.

If they come out of their room after they have used their pass, parents gently guide them back to their room with minimal interactions and attention.

2. Time-based visits and graduated extinction

This method is based on the idea that kids are engaging in behaviors that are interfering with sleep for the function of gaining their parents' attention; if that attention is taken away the sleep-avoidance behaviors will decrease. Parent attention is given based on a time-schedule rather than in reaction to the child's behavior and is gradually decreased.

If your child is supposed to be in bed sleeping but instead is coming out of their room telling jokes and doing silly dances try not to laugh, it might increase that behavior. Instead, practice the art of non-reaction and guide them back to bed (I know it's so hard not to laugh or enagage sometimes). It's sometimes even harder not to react to them when they are crying which makes this method less appealing to many parents.

3. Reward the behavior you want to see

When your child meets one of your sleep goals (not leaving the bedroom, calling out less than X number of times, sleeps past 6 a.m.) reward them the next morning. Maybe they get to pick what breakfast to eat or go out for a special treat. You can also expand on this by making sticker charts or token economies (child earns tokens to exchange for more massive prizes). Start with small steps and gradually build as they are successful.

4. Bedtime fading

This is a strategy for children who may have a hard time falling asleep and have developed harmful patterns, often taking several hours to fall asleep. To increase the value of sleep, the child's bedtime is initially pushed later (e.g., 11:00 p.m.) so that they can fall asleep faster and avoid the pattern of lying in their bed but not sleeping. When the child is able to fall asleep in less time at that later bedtime, the bedtime is gradually moved earlier and earlier until the desired bedtime is reached.

5. Visual or auditory prompt

Use something visual or auditory as a signal to your child that it is time to sleep. This could be a white noise machine that only runs during sleeping hours or a visual clock that turns colors during sleeping and waking hours.

Rather than having to tell your child, "Go back to sleep it's 4 in the morning" they can refer to the clock or white noise machine. This also can be useful to help set a tangible goal for them to earn a reward, "If you stay in bed until the light turns green, you get pancakes in the morning."

Each family has its own unique culture that needs to be taken into consideration when addressing a problem and finding a solution. Every family communicates, eats, plays and sleeps in different ways. Behavior strategies aren't one-size-fits-all and often need to be adapted to fit the individual.

Behavior Analysts use sleep assessment tools to determine what issues may be preventing a healthy sleep pattern. When barriers to sleep are identified, evidence-based solutions are applied to fit the unique needs of that family and data is used to measure progress. Behavior strategies are explained, demonstrated and practiced so that parents feel confident in how to use the tools effectively.

This article originally appeared on Create Behavior Solutions.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.


Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.


Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.


The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.


The Snoo bassinet


Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!


Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.


Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!


Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.


Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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