Have you ever found yourself looking up at the clock, thinking I cannot wait until bedtime? It’s been a long day. The kids are restless. And … you are tired. You can’t stop thinking about that cosy spot on the couch and how, when you get there, you’ll have unlimited access to the remote control and a nice glass of vino to keep you company.
But right now, that dream feels a million miles away; there’s a bedtime mountain to climb and needs to be met before you can even think of yourself.
is it bedtime yet? a parent’s guide to conquering the bedtime battle
Getting the kids into bed each night can be a battle. At this time of night, they seem to have a never-ending loop of demands, and they suddenly start sprouting urgent questions that can’t wait until the morning: ‘Mum, where does gold come from?’, ‘Dad, will I ever go to the moon?’ Sound familiar? It’s exhausting, right?!
This generation is the most overloaded: due to the bombardment of technology, fast-paced lives, sights, sounds, and the expectations placed on them. Is it any wonder their underdeveloped brains display stress responses more frequently – especially when over-tired? What if there were things we could do before bedtime that will lead to calmer, smoother, happier, and less drawn-out bedtime battles?
It all starts with … teaching kids about their amazing brains.
Yup. That is right. Teaching your kids how the brain works and what it needs to be healthy can lead to better sleep habits and calm bedtime boundaries.
Start by explaining to children that brains work so hard throughout the day, making connections to and from the things we learn. And at night-time, we can love our brains by helping them rest and recharge for another busy day (because without rest, we cannot operate, think, or act in the best possible way). Children love imagining their neurons hard at work, sorting experiences into memories, and safely storing them in the right places for when we need the information again. You could have some fun with this lesson!
Understanding these things about the brain also helps parents see that the bedtime problems are less about kids not wanting to go to bed–and not understanding why they should go to bed–and more about what their brains need to switch off. When they grasp this, parents can shift their roles’ perspective from directive to supportive. Brain care is about modelling, and teaching kids that sleep is vital for brain development. As adults, we take care of our brains by giving them the things they need to function and instilling a routine that works. You can give your kids the opportunity for the same.
how to cope when routines change
Kids can struggle when bedtime routines change. The few times our family has had sleepovers, they’ve ended in disaster (not to mention the time we spend cramped together in our caravan!). Both of my children have different sleep supports that work best for them, and they sometimes struggle to sleep in new environments, so it’s challenging to be on holidays or in other people’s homes.
Recently though, we went on a long, wintery weekend getaway. We took every single item that we knew our kids needed: Gro clocks, weighted blankets, weighted teddies, meditation and mindfulness books, noise-cancelling headphones, doonas, and our own pillows. It was honestly the best holiday we’ve had in such a long time: as we went away prepared and understood that sleeping in a new environment can unsettle sleep routines. But I know it can be downright challenging work getting kids to sleep when something’s different. Brains love to feel safe, so getting them to do something familiar might help.
teach kids to fuel their independence
Encouraging your kids to think about what they need (nightlights, water bottles, meditation music, weighted blankets, pyjamas at the right temperature, toilet time, favourite teddy) for a great night’s sleep – even when you’re away from home – will lead to independence. The more they practice this under your guidance, the more empowered they will feel.
teach kids to build a safe space
It is a fact that we are all wonderfully unique, and our sleeping conditions are no different. Children need to feel safe, secure, content and relaxed in their own thoughts before they drift off to dreamland, and having their own space helps this, so as a side note, I am a huge fan of giving kids their own bedrooms if possible, so this can be achieved.
how to build a solid routine
We’ve been told for generations that kids thrive on routine. Why? Because children love predictability and knowing what we expect of them. But life for parents with small children can seem a little monotonous because children require daily naps and early bedtimes, which keep us somewhat housebound. The challenge with bedtime routines is that they are the same each night. Because kids are wired for interest, they lose motivation and become entrenched in negative cycles of behaviour very quickly. Hello, Groundhog Day! As kids get a little older, we can start to relax, change things, and have fun with the routine.
teach kids about choice and autonomy
Children can learn that they are individual functioning human beings separate from their trusted adults, and a cognitive shift in their understanding of relationships occurs. That’s when we can empower them to have autonomy over their bedtime routine and think about what they need for optimal sleep. Kids love having choices, so consider changing how things are done in the evenings. Shower or bath? Tonight, or in the morning? Dinner at the table or bench? Ask children to contribute to the weekly meal choices and give them a choice over the jobs they do around the family home. All these things will contribute to them making positive choices at bedtime. So much of this is about shifting our own perceptions and expectations of what the evening routine looks and sounds like.
engage kids with connection
Children love spending as much time with us as possible, and sometimes the thought of going to bed away from us leads to an increase in attempts to get their needs met. When we prioritise ensuring our children’s love tanks are filled up during the day, we see less need for connection at bedtime. Kids who have spent all day away from us at school or childcare just want to be with us, and often the dinner rush and bedtime routine do not allow for deep connection.
One of my favourite ways to connect with my children is to get up early and climb into bed with them one at a time, have a snuggle, hold them close, look into their eyes, and count the freckles on their faces—just the two of us. Getting kids involved with meal prep, setting, clearing the table, and tidying up afterwards will lead to more time in between for connection, playfulness, fun, games, and bedtime stories. I recommend that all these things be done outside the bedroom so that once children get into bed, it is a clear signal that the only thing left to do is fall asleep. Optimally, your children will lay in bed awake but relaxed. You might hear them singing (I never tire of this). They might chat to themselves or their teddies and be content in their own wonderings before drifting off. If you have kids constantly coming out of their bedrooms – they are looking for more connection.
give kids some fresh air
Children who spend more time outside immersed in nature, climbing trees, using their imagination, exploring, and getting down and dirty sleep better. Turn the T.V. off, rug up, grab your torch, and head outside for a night walk before bed. Your kids will love it. When the weather is warmer – eat dinner outside as much as possible. Go to the park for an outside dinner picnic or have a barbeque at home.
immerse kids in calm
I support kids watching T.V. for downtime after school; they need to decompress and zone out too. But, avoiding technology for at least 30-minutes before bedtime means the brain will be less activated, leading to an ability to switch off and move to the sleepy zone. Try playing relaxing music or encouraging your kids to do mindful colouring or meditation instead. Playing a family board game or having open-ended quiet activities with chilled background music can also help your kids feel calm and connected.
teach kids to wind down before bed
Our children also need support when moving from ‘active to resting” and supporting their brains to shift into wind down mode is helpful. We want them to snuggle into bed feeling calm, relaxed, and content. Think along the lines of warm baths with music and sensory lights, a relaxing head massage whilst shampooing, smothering them in luscious body cream and lots of slow and regulated movements and conversations. It’s all about keeping that nervous system in a calm state.
set bedtime boundaries
You know that cosy spot on the couch and remote control I mentioned earlier? Well, this is where we get to that (exciting) part. Part of establishing healthy sleep boundaries is that kids understand that once they go to bed, it’s time for the grownups to rest their brains. It is our time to chill out, connect with our partners or take some down time to recharge ourselves. As my daughter has gotten older, she occasionally tells me she does not feel tired at 7pm. I simply say, ‘Ok, you can read in bed until your brain tells you it’s ready to sleep. You need to stay in your room and let me know when you are ready to turn off the light.’ And she does … most times. By doing this, I’m teaching her to be aware of her body and brain and become more of a self-manager at bedtime. There are absolutely no negatives to working hard to establish healthy bedtime routines, boundaries, and brain care strategies that support kids. In fact, the whole family benefits when we do. When we all get adequate, uninterrupted sleep, our brains work at their optimal level, which means that we are the best versions of ourselves every day.
are you teaching your kids to love their brains?
Chrissie Davies is a child behaviour expert, speaker, author, trauma-informed educator, and parent. She’s a mama of two awesome ADHD wildlings and an enthusiastic child advocate. She is on a mission to change how the world views children’s behaviours and encourages grownups to think outside the box when raising kids in the modern world. She has a particular passion for supporting neurodivergent and adoptive families. She authored her book Love Your Brain as a tool for parents and educators to help children better understand their brain and how to love it each day.
Read more here: www.chaostocalmconsultancy.com