Monday, August 20, 2007

Getting Kids to Go to Bed

Children Going to BedIs there anything like the word "bedtime" to strike simultaneous euphoria and fear in a parent's heart? Thrill at the prospect of having some time to oneself, yet fear of what will happen when the little natives rebel and do all in their power to thwart the bedtime efforts?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and offer some suggestions about this most pivotal of parenting moments: Bedtime. Why pivotal? Because she who gets the sleep controls the world.

First, kids need sleep--lots of it--and nowadays they aren't getting enough. Most sources say 10-12 hours for a school-aged child is necessary but with working parents who don't get off work until five or six o'clock it's difficult to get all of the chores done in time to get kids off to bed before nine or ten o'clock. Add to this that if you've been at the office all day, putting the kids to bed the second you get home makes you feel as if you don't get to see your children at all.

However, kids need sleep. Regardless of the adults' schedules, kids still need sleep and all the caffeine-enhanced vigor in the world can't change that. So doing the math, if my kids have to be up at 6:30 am in time for school they need to be heading to bed around 7 pm. I know it sounds odd but our kids have always had bedtime at 7 pm, since they were around six weeks old. More on that in a moment.

Second, adults need kids to sleep. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know but adults need time away from the children, time to rejuvenate, time to be together or be alone, they must have a chance to punch-out and go off the clock if they're going to wake, bright and early and ready to face the pagan hordes fresh in the morning.

So if I've convinced you that children sleeping peacefully is a good thing (and I'm sure I'm really twisting your arm on that one) what are my suggestions in promoting this most blissful of familial environments? Here's my seven-step program:

* Pick a time as early as possible.
* Try to have all children go by that time, regardless of age (hold on, I'll explain).
* Be firm.
* Be very firm.
* Don't give in.
* Not even if they scream and holler.
* If they argue, use weekends as leverage.

In our house we've picked 7 pm and that's Bedtime. That means toothbrushing, potty breaks, drinks of water, chores, all done by 7 pm. No exceptions. Well, okay there actually are several exceptions: weekends, camping, vacations, family activities lasting longer than 7 pm . . . but generally we aim for 7 pm and are fairly consistent.

However, the younger children--such as Lillian, age 5--go to sleep at 7 pm while David and Spencer (ages 8 and 10) get to read quietly in bed until 8 pm and Grace (age 13) can read until 9 pm. Rule is that they read quietly in bed, door closed, no coming out until the morning light and generally it works well for us.

Starting the kids out young is the way to make this the easiest but if you want to give it a try with your older children just remember you may be in for some tough de-tox before they get used to the new rules. Be patient, be firm, they'll get used to it eventually, if they balk at it and won't obey take away weekend time where bed time is a little later. You're the one holding the power (at least I hope you are) so use it. I'm betting it will be good for them and I know it will be good for the adults in the house.

Early bed time means you can watch your own t.v. shows, read, work on projects--you could even go out on a date and it'll make it much easier to get a babysitter when the kids are already in bed or are reading in their room (plus they can't charge you as much if you've already put them to bed too!) You'll be more inclined to go out if the kids are already quieted down and ready for sleeping.

Just think, if we all put our kids to bed at 7 o'clock, it would be impossible for our children to whine that life is unfair because little Millhouse down the street gets to stay up until ten. Parents all over the world would thank us--we could liberate millions of adults across the globe and create a New World Order where sleep deprivation has ceased.

Yes, the ramifications are enormous. Give it a try and let me know what you think.


Using my Custom Search Engine I've found some other posts on the subject of getting children to bed:

* Parent Hacks' idea of how to keep small children in bed until morning.
* Another Parent Hacks idea about keeping kids in bed.
* Mama Blogga's bedtime routine that helps small children get the hang of things.
* Mom Blog asked her readers about their tips for getting kids to bed, check out their comments.
* A Familiar Path has a first-person account of bedtime with a growing toddler.
* Notes from the Trenches has a post that asks about getting kids to bed.
* SouleMama has a clever Bedtime Bag idea, complete with a tutorial.
* Daytipper has thoughts about baby massage before bed.
* Littlemummy goes in a different direction and gives tips for when it's necessary to keep the kids out past bedtime.
* Dooce's experience on healthy sleep habits.
* Let's Talk Babies with tips on getting more sleep.

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grace said...

I never forget the popular: "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

We are in bed by 8 pm, for special cases, 9 pm. We finish all activities and head to the bedroom early and turn off the lights for the kid to sleep. Afterwards, when she is in dreamland, we are back to our regular program...(talking about how our day went, checking some emails, etc) but we do not go beyond 10:30. So (most of the time) by 6 am, we are all up and about, even if it's weekend.

Jenn in Holland said...

Can I hear an AMEN? AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!
I am a huge advocate of MOMMY TIME and we have been consistent in the practice that Mommytime begins at 8:00 and there are no longer children or distractions within it! It works well most of the time. I have to admit that summers, especially here so far North with the late light, are a bit more dfficult to enforce the bed time. (it's hard to go to bed when the sun is shining brightly) But you can believe that as school approaches that bedtime rule will be in place!
yahoo, Mommy time!

Lisa said...

Double amen! When my gang was little it was 6 pm bedtime. They are bigger now and it is 8pm bedtime (though in the wintertime it is closer to 7pm).

My question is do you have any tips for keeping them in their rooms? Lately, they keep coming out (5 yo twin boys)--water, questions, bathroom, scary thoughts, just go to bed already.

Thanks for this post!

girlymama said...

seriously - yuo have NO IDEA how timely that is in our house!!


Mary Alice said...

I am with you sister. I would absolutely adore having EVERYONE on the same page about bedtimes. It would totally ruin the unfair argument! Well rested children and parents could well be the first step in achieving world peace.

It is funny that you have brought this up now, as I have done a couple of posts this summer on sleep and this past June titled "Sleeping Beauty and the Beauty of Sleep" and one last week titled "Up in the Morning way too Soon."

Amy W said...

I love getting the kids to bed early and having time to myself. I have friends whose son goes to bed "anytime between 9:00pm and midnight" and that would drive me nuts.

Deb - Mom of 3 Girls said...

Our kids are in bed by 8pm because we have to do the 6:30am wake-up time too, year-round. Which is hard on them because their daddy's often not home from work by bedtime. They've always done really well with bedtime but lately my oldest has started staying awake in her bed trying to wait up for him (and we have the same problem as Lisa with her coming out to go potty, get a drink, etc.) and that's really affecting her in terms of how tired, whiny, etc. she's been. I know she misses her daddy, but she needs the sleep too... (sigh)

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

we do the in bed by 8 and read until 8:30ish then it out. It does help Stephanie's sanity quite a bit.

Scribbit said...

Jenn-Yup, I didn't bring up that northern summers thing but when it's still light at 11 pm and kids in the neighborhood are playing in the cul de sac my kids look pretty forlorn standing at their bedroom windows, with their noses pressed to the glass, watching the kids play football. I've left on dates and pulled the car out of the garage only to see their faces there. Of course then they realize that they've been seen out of bed and they scamper back. :)

Deb--That is tough, especially because it's hard to argue about a little girl wanting to see her Daddy. Maybe if you promised her he'd "wake her up and say Hi" when he came home? Usually by that time if they've got to sleep they're pretty fuzzy when you wake them a bit and she could get back to sleep and it would make her feel special? Maybe?

Lisa--I'm tough about it and tell them that if they come out of their rooms after bedtime that they loose time on the weekends. Depending on how feisty I'm feeling it could be anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half an hour. My boys have been tough that way and will come up with ANYTHING to get out. Things they've forgotten, stuff that HAS to be done before school, important science experiments that must be performed at nine o'clock at night only, food they forgot to consume . . . it gets old fast. One thing helps: when they're old enough to read and can quietly read in bed with their own special night light that helps though even looking at picture books for younger children might work. Good luck :) Twin boys! WOW!

SabineM said...

But wait, I have tried to sleep in Alaska in the summer! Morning light? Isn't lite all night? ;-)
I have a teenager now. She has been staying up soo late this summer. I have to get her used to going to be early again. We start on the 29th!
Maya, the 2 year old, is always good about going to bed! so far...

Loralee Choate said...

Bedtime is just about the only thing I ROCK at as a mother. 8:30. Always. Very rare exceptions.

Sadly, I'm the one that uses forms of trickery, diversion or down right tantrum throwing to avoid bedtime.


Mommy babble said...

Bedtime is my favorite time. We have a set bedtime of 9, but then we sleep in later in the mornings and still take afternoon naps as a family. Another perk to staying home is the afternoon, curl up on the couch and doze time.

But sleep is definitely important. Kids are growing and need as much sleep as they can get. Now if only the neighbots would stop letting their kids play outside long after dark it might stop the whines of "But mommy, timmy is outside playing!"

jchevais said...

My son is always up early so we are sure to put him to bed as early as we can in the evening.

Sometimes he still looks so awful the next day that I have to weep inside. I joke and ask if he wants a coffee, but I find the bags under his eyes sad.

I wonder if he hasn't got some anxieties to go along with his early morning rising? Hmm.

Mary said...

Great post!

We are a 7 o'clock bedtime family here too and it is great! This summer it has relaxed a bit to about 7:30, but any later and the kids are zombies the next day since they wake up around 7 a.m. (my two kids are almost 3 and 1) Not only are they happier when they get their full night's sleep, but I am happy because I get a full evening off. It's awesome!

oh amanda said...

I so agree! My daughter is only 19 months, but I've always made sleep a priority. She goes to bed at 7p and gets up b/w 7-8. Then takes a 2 hour nap!

I think I'll be sticking with the 7pm bedtime forever. My mil thinks I'm crazy b/c we don't stay out late. But I think a happy baby is worth it!

The Estrogen Files said...

Great post - and so true. We put our kids to bed at 8pm most nights. I need MY sleep, too...

An Ordinary Mom said...

Bed time here? 7:30. We love it!

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

Bedtime is at 8 here and is strictly enforced. Bean was tough like Dooce's daughter but we did what we had to do and she's been sleeping well and long since she was about 6 mos old, too. BUT, she gets up WAY TOO EARLY in the morning (6). Do you have thoughts on how to get a kid to sleep later? She's almost 3. Six in the morning is just too early to start a day with a 3 year old. Makes the day way too long!

mcewen said...

A cast iron bedtime routine is probably the only reason that I have a shred of sanity left.

kailani said...

I've been really lucky. Both my daughters don't give me a hard time at bedtime. Just as long as they are given forewarning that it's coming up.

Jamie J said...

So true. Our daughter goes to bed at 8 but up until the beginning of this summer it was never later than 7. I think a lot of parents don't think kids need as much sleep as they do and then they wonder why their kid is so crabby and tired every day!

Lisa said...

We have always been big on a bed time routine. I am not sure if that is what has helped us be successful-that it started early-or not. But luckily our girls have never tried to get out of bed. Our routine has always started with reading to each child individually in their own bed. I know that doesn't work for those with more children, but it has worked for us. My kids also will stay in their beds in the morning and read. I know I am lucky, but it is really important for them to get their sleep. My kids have also had to get up earlier than most of their friends in the past. We do chores and piano in the morning, so they are ready for bed at night.

Cece said...

I can't imagine what I could do with my time if my kids were in bed at 7pm! 9:00 is their bedtime & by that time they're ready!

Lisa said...

I aimed for an early bedtime but found my son was never getting to see my husband. (My son was growing up thinking his daddy didn't live with us. And he'd actually scream when my hubby would hold him as a baby because he didn't recognize him.) So I kept him up late so he could actually see his daddy (who doesn't come home from work alot of night until 8 ish...)

SO we do have a later bed time. Course my son doesn't have to get up at a certain time each day. But I know next year he will... So we are working on changing those habbits now... Thanks for the advice...

Heffalump said...

Having the kids go to bed earlier than we do has been a lovely thing. We enjoy our time as just us, and we are mean and still make them go to bed at a decent hour even in the summer.

Joan said...

We've had 8:30 bedtime for years now; the kids get up about 7. The older ones are allowed to read in bed, the little guy (6yo) usually passes out as soon as he stays still for 30 seconds.

Some strategies to try if they keep getting up:
1) Enforce drinks, teeth-brushing, and toilet use before they get tucked in.

2) Have a water bottle available for them in their rooms if that won't cause other problems.

3) Give them, say, 5 tickets per week; they have to use a ticket to get out of bed, and they don't get anymore that week once they're up. They'll get used to evaluating whether or not they really need to get up or not.

I'm a stickler for the kids being in bed, but I don't make them go to sleep right away, especially in the summer. For much of the summer, they're all three sharing a room, and so they can play games with their stuffed animals or chat -- quietly -- until they're sleepy. During the schoolyear, I'm much more rigid about getting them to go to sleep at an earlier hour.

One of my biggest frustrations this summer was spending time with relatives who let their kids stay up till all hours. Kid-free time is essential to parental sanity.

Mary@notbefore7 said...

Just read this today! AMEN!!! We love, "healthy sleep habits, happy child." Our bedtime is 7 PM most nights, though there are nights the 2 year old is in bed earlier. On rare occasion, the 4 year old gets to stay up till 7:30, but that is because they share a room and it helps to let sis fall asleep. All the neighbors stare is amazement when we sit out front quietly relaxing at 8 PM and all of their kids are still running around. But, i LOVE your comment about "YOU hold the least I hope you do!" AMEN!

(Oh - just read your comment - love the idea of a special night lite for the older one in bed)

Alexandra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexandra said...

My children have almost the same bedtimes. The two year old goes to bed no later than 7 p.m. Sometimes we take her up earlier if she's fussy. She's a big sleeper...sometimes she doesn't wake up until 9 a.m.!

The nine year old takes his bath at 8 p.m., and is usually asleep by 9 p.m. He gets up around 7 a.m.

We keep times consistent or things go awry here. Everyone in our family is happier with a bedtime schedule.

la bellina mammina said...

My boys go to bed latest at 8.30pm during the week even though they complained that some of their friends go to bed at 10pm. 10pm!? When they have to be up by 6.15am!! Horrors!
What I need help in is putting the baby to sleep. I seem to be unsuccesful in that. There is NO way he'll fall asleep at 7. I've tried, oh how I've tried, but nothing worked.

Babystepper said...

What a worthy goal. Our little ones still have naps, and don't have to wake up early, so bedtime here is about 8. I'd love to instigate your rule someday, though. Something to strive for, anyway.

I've always been an early to bed, early to rise kind of girl, but I like this quote anyway.
"Early to rise, and early to bed
Makes a man healthy, but socially dead."

Damselfly said...

Sounds good to me. How early do you think I should start this? At almost one, Fly goes to bed around 8-8:30. He is a terrible sleeper and napper, not reliable at all about when or if he will sleep or for how long.

Lei said...

I wholeheartedly agree on an early bedtime. My last 2 have thrown me for a loop, though. But my first 2 are sleepyheads like I was!

chelle said...

I hope you have a follow up post to answer all the questions and highlight comments. Not too much to ask eh? hehe!

My question is ... what about dinner time with the family? My husband gets home after 6pm ... we eat then he plays with/interacts with his kids for an hour. The kids are both in bed by 7:30 but still it is tough to get it all in in that hour and a half.

wayabetty said...

I agreed with you on this post wholeheartedly! We have the kids in bed by 8 recently since they have been sleeping late with their 3 cousins staying the past 3 wks. And they get up around 7:30ish. Can't wait for school to start too.

Jenmomof4 said...

I try to have everyone in bed by 8 and the older ones can read in their rooms. If you fail to wake in the morning then your bedtime is moved to 7:30. If you get up the next day without a prob then you can go back to 8. So far it has worked.

Amy said...

This is a great reminder. Sometimes I am a slacker when it comes to this, but alone time is a big motivator to get my butt in gear ;)


Shalee said...

Amen. I'll say it again. Amen. (And I'm a working mother who strives to hold fast to this type of bedtime routine.)

Anjali said...

We've always had 7:00 bedtime as well. (Now it's 6:30 since Mira starts school so dang early and she needs the sleep.) Great idea with the older kids, though!

I can't imagine spending all day with kids, and then having to keep them company past 7. It would kill me.

Melissa Garrett said...

OY! I can't believe it's taken me THIS long to get over here and comment. We are firm believers in early bedtimes. While I like to think it's because I have my kids' best interests at heart (which I do) it's also because I need that few hours without them.

Hannah and Jacob are in bed by 7:30, but they can stay up to read. Needless to say, they are both usually asleep within fifteen minutes! Bridget . . . I won't even talk about her. She is getting a big girl bed soon (woo hoo) and we'll start weaning her out of the crib/our bed.

Jacob and Hannah will have to get up at 6:00 for school to catch the bus at 7:15 (they need a good breakfast, afterall!). Every minute of sleep counts. Plus, I do a lot of writing each night. It's just too hard to do my work with all the daily distractions.

Rebecca said...

As someone who has worked professionally with children in a variety of settings, including the schools, kids. aren't. getting. enough. sleep.

I am so with you on this one. I've always said that when Jeff and I have kids, there will be an 'early' bedtime.

And I love how you and Chris Jordan both have a set bedtime, but depending on the kids' ages, they may read, etc. while in bed.

It's so good for the kids... and the parents!

night owl said...

What about church activities, sports etc that start @ 6,7pm etc. Do you not participate in those functions? Am I the only parent who likes to do things with my kids in the evening? After reading these comments I feel like somebody could turn our family in for child abuse. We use the daylight to the full extent. Play all summer and slow it down in the winter. (lik Bears). Well, I won't let my kids play out infront of your place and tempt your kids at bed time. But for anyone else who feels like I do, to each there own.
Do what works for your family. We're lucky if we have dinner by 8pm.
As far as going back to school, we homeschool/ have done so all summer. I can't relate to them going back. I felt more stressed out having them return to school. (back when they went to public school). This year is the first time I have felt good and not stressed out. I think it helped not having a 3 month break, then try to get back in the groove of things. Take care. P.S. How old will your kids need to be so they can watch the 10 o'clock news.?

Scribbit said...

Well, night owl, as I said in my post there are several exceptions to the bed time rule--family activities and things that go beyond 7 being one of them but no, I don't enroll my children in evening activities.

I was surprised by the support I got from this post, I thought I'd run across more people who feel as you do and like to be out late. I think your feelings are more of the norm.

Sounds like you're a little irked at the whole suggestion and I'm sorry if it bothers you, I just feel it's something that should talked about more as there seem to be a lot of children out later than ever before nowadays. Don't think that I'm saying if you're out playing till midnight I think you're a bad parent--I'm just saying that there is another way that we prefer to do things.

Callista said...

Good advice! I like how you put the kids to bed at the same time but let the older ones stay in bed and read. This is a good idea. My 20 month old and 4 month old both go to bed at 9 but that's because we have nothing to get up for in the morning and so we don't get up till 9am.