Okay, so you’ve read three stories, tucked them in, kissed them goodnight and switched off the light.
Just as you settle into the comfy chair with a cuppa… “Mum, I’m thirsty” or “Dad, I just need to tell you something” or even little footsteps coming down the hall!
How do we get children to stay in bed once you’ve completed the bed-time routine? (As a reminder, a routine generally is something like… Bath, milk, teeth brushing, toilet, stories, kisses and cuddles.)
Basically the answer is consistency. Once a child is put to bed, with the established bed-time routine, then you follow through with consistency. If a child gets out of bed, you take their hand, walk them back to bed, tuck them in, saying “It’s bed-time”. If they get up again, you repeat. And repeat as many times as is necessary. Once you try to rationalise (“you’ll be tired in the morning”; you’ve already had a glass of milk”; “you should have eaten more dinner”) – then you have opened the door, for the child to engage in a conversation. They will feel the need to justify how hungry they are, or how important it is to tell you something – which then leads you to reply, and so it goes on.
Children will also utilise their charm – “Mummy I just want to give you a hug” – Now who could resist that! If you do go in for another hug, then again, the ‘conversation’ begins, this time with hugs.
Children do not know how much sleep they need. They also can’t forsee how tired they will be tomorrow without adequate sleep. As parents we know it – we’ve had to live with cranky children when they don’t get enough sleep! Everyone ultimately benefits from a good nights sleep.
So, the only phrase you need is: “It’s bed-time.” There is no explaining, no begging them to go, and no raised voice (even if they get up 5 times or more!). If they say they are hungry, the response is the same: “It’s bed-time.” Each and every time you remain calm, whilst saying it. Calmness shows the child that they cannot upset you, nor push you to respond. Remaining calm also models to the child how to remain calm (even when you aren’t pleased with their actions!).
Children will eventually understand that you mean it, when you are consistent in your actions. It may take several nights or even a week, but they will learn it.
When you have decided that you are ready to implement this new behaviour (of staying in bed), you need to to tell the children beforehand, that the bed-time routine is changing from now, and that once they are in bed they need to stay in bed, and you will be encouraging that.
And then do it!
So what do you do if they say: “I need to go to the toilet”. You need to say ‘okay’ here – because nobody needs a wet bed! Yes, they might not actually need to go, but again you are showing them that this is the only reason to get out of bed. Once they’ve finished, escort them back to bed, and repeat again, “It’s bed-time.”
As usual, ‘calm and consistent’ wins the day!
Happy Bedtime routines!
Image by Chris Parfitt via Flickr