Nothing defines the power of a preschooler—and the helplessness of a parent—better than the battle over bedtime. Sometimes it seems as if young children are purposely designed to keep their parents in a state of eternal anxiety when it’s time for “lights out.” But it doesn’t have to be that way! Experts have come up with some tips to turn “dread time” into bedtime:
- It’s Chemical: Every person, young or old, has an internal clock that tells them when it’s time to sleep. When we’re kept up past that perfect bedtime our brains produce a stress hormone called cortisol. This is meant to increase energy and keep us awake in emergencies, but also makes it harder for a tired person to fall asleep. While everyone’s internal clock is different, experts say a 5-year-old should be put to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and sleep 10 to 11 hours a day, including naps. Otherwise the cortisol will kick in and you’ll be fighting a cranky kid.
- They Only Want to Be with You: Oftentimes, bedtime is the only time of day when parents focus totally on the child, not on the TV, the phone, or other family members. The little ones stretch out the bedtime routine because they want to spend as much quality time as possible with parents. To avoid lengthy bedtimes, it’s important to keep a short, focused routine: Bathe, brush teeth, story time, and bedtime. Reading several books or adding too many steps to the routine will wake up a child and prolong the process.
- Promise and Praise: When it comes to bedtime the carrot works better than the (proverbial) stick. Reward good behavior with the promise of a favorite video or TV show in the morning, a special treat at breakfast, or stickers on a special “bedtime” chart with a desired toy once the chart is full. Offer plenty of verbal approval when things go well. Children are motivated when they are praised and pleasing their parents.