End bedtime battles with your children. Use a free printable bedtime routine to make bedtime easier and more fun for parents and children.
Let’s face it, you love your kids. But at the end of a long day, you’re just ready to get to the house picked up or the dishes washed. You want to catch a few minutes to yourself, but first you have to make it through the dreaded bedtime routine.
Maybe after bedtime is your time to watch Netflix or exercise. Maybe you can’t wait to read or need to connect with your husband. You need this time to yourself to be a good parent, and it would certainly help if you could get the children to be cooperative and end bedtime battles.
Since everyone is tired at bedtime, there will be hurdles to overcome. However, it doesn’t need to be a time of day that you dread. You can find yourself looking forward to it and leaning into the quality time with your children.
With some simple tweaks, you can have a bedtime routine that is more pleasant for everyone.
Decide on Your Bedtime Priorities
First, figure out if what are your goals for bedtime. What is causing you the most frustration?
- Would you like there to be less whining?
- Do you need bedtime to run more smoothly?
- Are your school-aged children too dependent on you and you need them to be a bit more independent?
- Is your toddler or preschooler an expert at procrastinating and delaying techniques?
So take a few minutes and think: what is the exact problem that needs to be changed?
Having a narrow, specific purpose will help you as you end the bedtime battles.
Children Need Sleep
A lot of parents feel guilty about wanting the time to themselves, but children need sleep and so do parents. Our culture treats sleep as a luxury but it is an essential component to health for both parents and children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the necessary sleep amounts for children for good health:
• Infants (4 – 12 months): 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
• Toddlers (1 – 2 years): 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
• Preschoolers (3 – 5 years): 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
• School-age (6 – 12 years): 9 to 12 hours
• Teenagers (13 – 18 years): 8 to 10 hours
Sleep is necessary. So take the guilt of wanting your children to go to bed off of your emotional plate.
Talk to Your Child about the Bedtime Routine
After you decide what’s important to you, it’s time to talk to your children about their concerns.
First ask your child about the problem. And then listen with empathy. You job isn’t to find a solution, but to listen to your child’s concern.
I know from personal experience that you can’t bribe or threaten a child to go to bed if your child has a genuine unmet need. We had short-term success with a sticker chart for bedtime when our daughter was dealing with serious fear of the dark, but ultimately it didn’t meet her emotional needs.
No amount of sticker charts will work if we don’t address a child’s underlying concern.
So ask, “I’ve noticed bedtime is hard for you. Why’s that?” Then be quiet and listen. And be quiet and listen some more. You likely will need to have this conversation 5 or 6 times until your child will be able to figure out what’s bothering them.
You can also ask leading questions to help your child identify his or her concern. Some possible bedtime concerns are:
- Need for more quality time with parent
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of missing out
- Separation anxiety
- Dislike of tooth brushing or bath time
Remember: your child isn’t having a difficult time just to push your buttons. This is not a power struggle. There is something getting in your child’s way.
Address Your Child’s Bedtime Concern
It’s best to assume there is something triggering your child’s bedtime battles and try to address it.
A couple years agi, my daughter was having a really hard time with bedtime and wouldn’t let my husband do the bedtime routine. She’d fall asleep in her school clothes with unbrushed teeth without stories or any of the routine that brings her comfort.
We repeatedly and neutrally asked her, “Hey we’ve noticed bedtime with daddy is hard. What’s going on?” Eventually she said she wanted mama.
Bingo. When I started this blog and my printables business, I worked most evenings at the library. She was responding negatively to the transition.
We empathized with her that it is hard having a mom work in the evening and really dug in with empathy. Eventually, we collaborated with her to come up with a solution but she felt understood and heard.
And isn’t that what we all want – to be understood.
So, keep digging with your own child. Once you uncover the concern, develop a plan to address it.
When Delaying Bedtime is Just a Bad Habit
Now sometimes resisting bedtime is just a bad habit. With the pandemic and summer, routines and boundaries can slip away.
Likewise, you could have faced another situation that forced you into survival mode for a while. It happens – be compassionate with yourself!
While we’ve been pretty consistent, we did let our four-year old sleep on our bedroom floor twice when he woke up hearing his baby brother’s crying. All of a sudden, he started saying he was afraid of the dark and wanted to sleep in our room.
Hard pass for me! This introvert mom needs at least a little time without the children every day.
When something has developed into a bad habit, families might have success with a sticker chart. If you sense your child’s behavior isn’t from an unmet emotional need, using a sticker chart with an incentive can help.
We print out a picture of the toy or experience and glue it on the sticker chart you can find below. (It’s free!)
Have a Plan for Bedtime
Once you’ve identified your child’s concern, it’s time to develop a plan and stick to it for at least a month. Sometime you’re going to need time to allow a change to work.
A few years ago when my daughter was struggling, we made an agreement about the time of day (mornings) when she would get quality time with mom. Every morning we sat on the couch and practiced her speech therapy and read stories while her toddler brother was still in his bedroom waiting for his Okay to Wake Clock to light up.
We also went back to using a bedtime routine chart with our daughter. She needed to complete the tasks on her routine with her daddy even on the evenings that I wasn’t home at bedtime.
Use a Bedtime Routine Chart
Using a bedtime routine chart is a really easy way to make bedtime smoother. Routines are powerful. They are the key to efficiency, allow your child to feel secure and gain independence, and can free up time for creativity.
First you need to set up the chart so your child can become independent:
- Print out the Bedtime Routine Printable chart.
- Either laminate it or place it inside a plastic sheet protector.
- Then place it on clipboard.
- Grab some washable dry erase markers.
- Review or teach your child each step.
- Allow your child to check off the completed items.
You’ll notice that I have two different bedtime routine printables. One starts with a bath and the other doesn’t. Choose the chart that is right for your family or alternate between the two.
Give Choices during the Bedtime Routine
One of the cornerstones to Parenting with Love and Logic is to allow your child tons of acceptable choices. The theory is giving acceptable choices allows your child a sense of control and makes it easier for them to stomach the times when you have a firm boundary,
Some low-stakes choices you could allow are:
- Do you want to read Good Night, Good Night Construction Site or Pete the Cat’s Bedtime Blues?
- Tonight, do you want these striped pajamas on or these polka dot pajamas?
- Should we put a truck sticker or a Finding Dory sticker for your toothbrushing chart?
Giving your child choices in the bedtime routine can gain more cooperation in a really easy way.
Build Fun into the Bedtime Routine
In your routine, make sure to get the tough stuff like baths, pjs and pull-up, and teeth brushed promptly before everyone is too tired and too frustrated.
You’ll notice on the Bedtime Routine that I have a child holding a star saying “Hooray! Celebrate!” in step #4 or step #5 (depending on whether you start with a bath). This is a reminder to add a fun task in the bedtime routine and enjoy the time with your children.
Give your child another acceptable choice during this time that fits into your time frame and mental bandwidth.
- adding a sticker to a chart.
- quiet playtime with legos while you help another child.
- play tic-tac-toe with your child.
- give your child a piggy back ride.
A word of caution: Avoid using screens during this time as can interfere with your child’s ability to fall asleep.
Use a Bedtime Sticker Chart
If you feel like your child needs more incentive, use some positive reinforcement like a bedtime sticker chart.
A few years ago, we collaborated with our daughter to have Family Night on Friday night where we watch a PBS Kids Family show and have popcorn after her toddler brother went to bed.
She knew if she allowed daddy to do the bedtime routine all the other nights, that would she get that special time with mom and dad on Friday nights. Family Night functioned as both an incentive and a special bonding time.
Now with my four-year old son, he is motivated by all things vehicles. If it weren’t a global pandemic, my husband might take him for a ride on the light rail train. Instead he picked out a truck set on Amazon that he wants for his sandbox.
Recapping Bedtime Routine
Here’s the summary for all you busy parents:
- You need to decide on your bedtime priorities.
- Sleep is important for children and adults.
- Don’t feel guilty about needing rest and sleep.
- Talk to your child with curiosity about the bedtime problems.
- Help identity your child’s concerns.
- Decide if it’s an unmet need or just a bad habit.
- Make a plan for bedtime.
- Use a printable bedtime routine chart to build independence.
- Build fun into your bedtime routine.
- Consider if a sticker chart will work for your family.
You’re a tired parent and your children need their sleep too. You can end the bedtime battles and have a better bedtime routine.