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10 Surefire Solutions to End the Bedtime Battle

Fix your child’s bedtime routine once and for all.
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How to Set the Scene and Create the Ritual for a Peaceful 'Good Night' continued...

Just as adults can't go right from the busyness and activity of the day into sleep, neither can your child. She needs a transition to relax and settle down. "There should be no vigorous activity between a half hour and an hour before bedtime," Jennifer Shu, MD, a pediatrician with Children's Medical Group in Atlanta, says. Shu is also co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn.

Establish a Routine for Your Child's Bedtime

Shu calls this the Four B's: bath, brushing teeth, books. and bed. The routine should start somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour before you want your child to be asleep, she says.

It's important that your child's routine be predictable, Waldburger says. Do the same things in the same order. "Over time, just doing the routine will make a child sleepy," she says.

And it works in reverse too. Soon, when your child feels tired, she will start asking for bath and books, Shu says.

With older kids who get themselves ready for bed, Long suggests playing beat the clock. Make a deal with them that if they get ready before the timer rings they get an extra story or five extra minutes to read to themselves.

Offer Lots of Choices for Kid's Bedtime

Offer your child simple either-or choices, not open-ended choices that will frustrate both of you, Waldburger says. The options are endless.

  • Would you like to skip or walk to the bath?
  • Would you like to wear the green pajamas or the blue ones?
  • Do you want to read two or three stories?
  • Would you like three kisses or five?

Take Charge and Set Limits

Children want us to run the show, Waldburger says. "A developmental task of a toddler is to push and test. Our job is to set healthy boundaries for them. Knowing that someone's in charge actually makes your child feel more comfortable." Children seem as if they want the sun, the moon, and the stars, she says. "But when they get it, it's weird. It makes them feel unsafe when we don't set limits."

Too often, Waldburger says, parents worry that giving their children limits will upset them and make them less close. But this isn't the case.

"Never once have I had a parent say that the child was less attached, less bonded [as a result of parental limits]," Waldburger says. "They always say the opposite. Once the child is getting that rest, he or she is thriving."

Provide a Transitional Object

Bedtime means separation, and that can be hard on a child. Help your child cope by finding something that can substitute for you when you leave the room, Waldburger says. Take your child to the store and pick out mommy bear (or whatever stuffed animal he or she wants). Have mommy bear help make dinner, take a bath, and read books. "Then at bedtime, you say, 'Mommy can't stay but mommy bear will be here with you,'" Waldburger says. "It gives a child a piece of you to cuddle up with when you're not there."

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