How to Solve Bedtime Battles with Your Kids
How to Solve Bedtime Battles with Your Kids? As a parent, you know that where there are kids, there are bedtime battles! Who among you hasn’t heard (at least some) of these:

When they’re young:

  • But I’m not tired.
  • Read me a story.
  • Can I sleep in your bed?
  • I’m scared. There’s something under my bed.
  • Mommy, Jake won’t stop teasing me.
  • I’m thirsty – can I have a glass of water?
  • I’m hungry.

As they get older:

  • I forgot: I have some homework due tomorrow. I need to do it.
  • Can I tell you a joke I heard today?
  • I don’t like my English teacher. She hates me.
  • I’m too tired/angry/upset/excited to go to sleep.

And older yet:

  • Any/all of the above, plus:
  • Mom, Carol was mean to me today. What should I say to her?
  • Da-aad, I’m in the middle of this game!

And …

  • Cell phone chats with friends as soon as you mention “it’s time for bed.”

Jason’s oldest son was 7-years-old, and his bedtime was supposed to 8 pm.  He could seldom get him to sleep before 9:30, which added nothing to his gracious mood.

So Jason became the Drill Sergeant during bedtime battles:  Constantly raising his voice … barking out orders … upsetting the kids … creating resistance instead of cooperation.  His wife, Charlene, said he was too harsh, while he claimed she was too soft. It got so bad they stopped inviting friends over at night because one of them had to stay upstairs chasing their two boys and threatening to remove privileges if they didn’t go to bed.

As Jason and Charlene searched for a way to solve their bedtime battles, they met with me and learned something powerful:  they were putting their children’s happiness before their own, and it was killing them.

Why? Because they broke three basic rules.

Three Rules to Avoid Bedtime Battles


Rule #1: Practice excellent self-care

Jason and Charlene realized they spent all their time trying to make the kids happy by disregarding their basic needs.  Jason knew that the best environment for a happy child was a warm and accepting father.  Meanwhile, He was barking orders and expecting instant obedience, while Charlene bent over backward to soften the impact.

Their goal was to get the kids in bed by eight o’clock every school night. But since “a goal without a plan is only a wish,” they desperately needed a plan.

So how do you solve bedtime battles with your kids? Create a plan! When you create a plan for your kids, get them involved (see Rule #2). Listen to their input with respect, but you and your spouse get to certify the final decisions. They set the goal of lights-out at 8 pm – and then, with the kid’s input, worked backward to create a timetable. Like this:

10:  Lights out at 8 pm.

9:    Kids tucked into bed at 7:50 (comfort, snuggles, and bedtime kisses)

8:    Restroom break 7:45 – 7:50

7:    Storytime 7:15 – 7:45 (read 2 stories)

6:    Pajamas and Teeth 7:00 – 7:15

5:    Bath 6:30 – 7:00

4:    Pick up and store toys 6:15 – 6:30

3:    Quiet play 5:45 – 6:15  … NO ELECTRONICS after mealtime.  Power down for better sleep.

2:    Suppertime 5:00 – 5:45

1:    Meal preparation 4:30 – 5:00 (kids playing with electronics or watching favorite T.V. show)

Once Jason and Charlene put their goals first and created a routine for their family, change was almost immediate.

Rule #2: Share the Control

Giving your kids choices also gives them a say in their fate and some control of the situation. For example, Jason and Charlene‘s boys got a say in the menu planning for the week, and they went grocery shopping as a family.  This young active couple made up a whole range of choices to give their kids some control.   Here are just a few examples.  Try to pick a few that fit with your values:

  • Do you want to sit in the front or the back of the bathtub?
  • Do you want to brush your teeth yourself, or do you want my help?
  • Do you want to pick your two stories tonight? Or should I surprise you?
  • Do you want me to read you a story, or make one up?
  • Do you want to turn off the lights yourself, or me to do it for you?
  • Who wants to wash and who wants to dry?
  • Shall I close your bedroom door or leave it open?

Rule #3:  Give Consequences with Empathy And Stay Connected

Children learn from the resulting events that follow their actions.  However, when you are high on empathy but low on consequences, you produce spoiled kids who don’t listen.  When you give consequences with anger (no or low empathy), your children typically react out of fear or defiance.  They tend to become reactive instead of open and responsive.

With consequences, the key is to balance them with a healthy dose of empathy.  This creates teaching moments that are hallmarked with warmth and acceptance, moments your kids will be more likely to absorb.

Giving consequences without anger, lectures or threats creates emotional safety.  That type of security helps children relax and get their eyes off you.  It allows kids consider the consequences of their actions in advance.  In the end, giving consequences with a healthy dose of empathy and acceptance helps kids pay attention and begin to think for themselves!

Here are some examples:

Balancing Consequences and Empathy

  • “Young men who don’t sit at the table don’t get to choose bedtime stories.”
    Notice:  I didn’t say they lost bedtime stories. They lost the choice of bedtime stories.
  • “Young ladies who don’t play quietly lose that same privilege tomorrow at bedtime. Are you sure you want to do that?”
  • “Young men who splash in the bath get taken out of the tub.” When it happens again, remove them without a word.
  • “Young ladies who don’t brush their teeth don’t get candies during the day.” Stick to it.
  • “Young ladies who refuse to put on the PJ’s don’t get to choose the story – and they don’t get a second Are you sure you want that?”
  • “Young people who don’t get into bed will get to lose … (their favorite toy, a playdate, or some other thing they would HATE to lose)”

A Point To Ponder:  Parenting is a Learned Behavior

For parents, mastering self-care can feel selfish. It takes time to get comfortable with putting your basic needs and goals first.

The road to sharing control is also full of potholes. I made lots of mistakes at first, and even put sticky notes all over the house as a reminder of how to handle certain situations.

Empathy doesn’t come easily. When kids push your buttons, your natural response is not empathy, but the exact opposite. However, once you begin to understand what’s happening, the less often you get blindsided by these parenting moments.

If you stick with the three rules:  Practice excellent self-care, Share the Control and Give Consequences with a healthy dose of empathy, you will start to see the frequency, intensity and duration of bedtime battles decrease quickly.

It just takes time, practice … and patience.

Remember: a goal, without a plan, is just a wish!


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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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