sleeping child

Ella as she was dressed at the beginning of the night.

STILL battling a feral teething, sleepless baby, I thought I’d tackle something more positive for this month’s Sleep Challenge. Like, how to get your children to love bedtime. Apologies if you just choked on your Weetbix. I say positive, because I’m pretty thankful the princesses are in bed by 7pm and happy to be there. What’s our secret?

It’s something we heard from some expert on a radio program a few years back and since adopting it, it’s turned bedtime around for us. Baby Holly is still a little young for this to be of any effect, but it’s ideal for three-year-old Ella.

Rather than throwing them over your shoulder, legs kicking and screaming so loud it makes the neighbours contemplate calling Family Services, we do the bedtime routine – milk, books and songs. OK, nothing new there. Unless, of course, you include the addition of jokes. Knock knock jokes to be exact. Humdingers like:

Ella: “Knock knock’’

Dad: “Who’s there?’’

Ella: “Ben.’’

Dad: “Ben who?’’

Ella: “You’d better go and ben-d down or you’ll spread Vegemite all over your face. Hahaha!’’

Not so thankful for those jokes. But I digress.

The key is then leaving on her night light and allowing her to read or play quietly until she’s sleepy. I know, not very groundbreaking. But it works. The idea is that kids should be allowed to go to sleep when they’re ready. They shouldn’t be forced to go to sleep when they’re not sleepy. This turns the whole experience into a positive one.

So now, we do our bedtime routine, tell her to read or play and that we’ll check in on her in 10 minutes. Sometimes when we go back in she’s out to it. Usually she’s upside down and wearing half her dress up box. But she’s in bed asleep, none the less. Other times she has all her “friends’’ (aka teddies and dolls) lined up in bed and a book turned outwards as she reads to them. She even does the “licking your finger’’ thing before turning pages.

Sure, there are periods where she keeps getting out of bed. “I need a wee. I need something to drink. I need… attention!’’ We just adopt the reward system – if you don’t get out, you get a reward at the end of the week. For us, it works.

baby playing with dummyPS. This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation about what time your children go to bed, with Lina from Mother’s Love Letters, Megan from Writing Out Loud (whose daughter “asked’’ to go to bed at 6.30pm last night), Alli from Motivating Mum (who responded with “What! I wish!’), Kirsty from Mummy To Five (who has five in bed by 7pm) and Sarah from Whisper Mum’s The Word. It was then taken to Facebook, where it exploded.

The consensus was 6.30-7.30pm. A few were 8-8.30pm. Some moved sleep times later as their children got older.

Read more from the Sleep Challenge.

Linking up with the lovely Kate Says Stuff’s Thankful Thursday. Click on the link to find out what others are thankful for this week.

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41 Responses to SLEEP CHALLENGE: The secret to getting your children to love bedtime

  1. We started to let Addison read books in bed and she has all her “kids” in bed with her but she is often asleep with in a few minutes or at least she is winding down and in her room.
    Courtney @ Nobashake recently posted..Thankful for the small thingsMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh yes, Ella uses the term “kids” too. How funny is that? Great to hear it’s working for you too, Courtney. I wish I had known about it a year earlier than I did. Would have saved a lot of headaches!! :)

  2. Fantastic post Kel!
    It was good to find out what works for others.

    My kids go to bed at 8:30 and wake up anywhere from 6:30 (on a good day). If i sent them to bed any earlier i would hate to know what time they would wake up.
    Me ‘N my Monkeys recently posted..Happy Birthday Baby!My Profile

    • Kel says:

      That’s definitely the downside of an early bedtime – early risers!! Urrgghh!
      Although, I just love that time at night for me and The Bloke in The Shed. We all need to be up early anyway of a morning to get ready for work/childcare etc, so it works for our lifestyle. It definitely comes down to what suits your life. Thanks for sharing last night too. I loved hearing what works for each family. x

  3. Great post Kel, I used to tear my hair out over bedtime battles until I realized I was only making myself more stressed.

    These days my big kids will read or listen to music in bed until they are ready to sleep. I cosleep with my small two and most nights 20 minutes of feeds/cuddles will see them nod off but if either have had a late nap I will happily get them back up and play quietly for half an hour before trying again. Much less stress and much more happiness :)

    Usually all four of mine are asleep by 7.30 on a weeknight :)
    katesaysstuff recently posted..Thankful Thursday: Guest Post for ActionAidMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      I love the idea of listening to music in bed too, Kate. That’s fantastic. Ella has a seahorse that plays relaxing, sleepy music. It definitely helps her wind down on the those nights where she’s a little more wired than usual!!
      I think the day nap (which only happens for Ella now if she’s fallen asleep in the car) is probably when it’s needed most. :)

  4. we do a similar thing although sometimes it doesnt work. They all go to bed at 7.30 sometimes 8 if they have had a sleep during the day. Sometimes 12 :O if missS sleeps in the afternoon. Eeek Most of the time it works though!
    Lifeasmummymax recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Flowers in my gardenMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      If Ella has a day nap (very, very rare these days), it throws us out a bit too. That’s when the reading to her “friends” can last till 9pm on some occasions!! On those nights, when she really can’t settle, I get her to lie down and pat her back and head.
      I love Kate’s idea of letting them listen to music too.

  5. sarah says:

    Weve never had problems with getting the kiddos to sleep.. I ve always insisted on consistency even if that means not going out around bedtime so we can get them to bed. Because Ive stuck with it through their baby times we have the best sleepers ever now, they go to bed at 7 and get up at 6.30-7 and we dont have any problems.. Miss M is allowed to read quietly in bed now shes a little older and she loves the quiet time on her own.. love your pic of Princess Ella xxx
    sarah recently posted..Letting the Light in!My Profile

    • Kel says:

      We’ve been exactly the same, Sarah. It’s been 7pm every night since they were 6 months. And we’ve declined a lot of offers because it has always been more important to us that they’re in bed at the same time each night. On the rare occasion she’s stayed up, we’ve paid for it the next day! But that’s just us! I realise for some parents their children adapt more easily to late nights and night outings.
      We’ve actually started discussing the upcoming Christmas parade and carols and wondering if, for a treat, we might let Ella stay up to watch those. We may regret it… ;)

  6. Sif says:

    You’re always guaranteed of a discussion when sleep is mentioned, aren’t you! In our house we’ve very easygoing about sleep times until around the age of 4, before then, the child sleeps pretty much when he (we only have boys) is ready, and they have always been parented to sleep. Around the age of four, we start to encourage a specific bedtime (we’ve actually done it a lot earlier with our fourth child, or maybe he just went with the flow earlier, but he goes to bed when the others do – sometimes he gets up a few hours later and hangs out with us until we go to bed because he’s still not quite three and we’re cool with him just hanging out at midnight with us after a few hours sleep still).

    Bedtime in our house is around 7-7.30pm and the boys go to bed, but we know our older two (12 and 10) will read or quietly play, and one of them even does homework! As long as they’re quiet we just let them be. The 6 year old has his own room at the moment and he usually goes straight to sleep with the light off – he’s a different breed. We always ensure going to bed is a time of peace and happiness and not contention.
    Sif recently posted..Thankful Thursday: The unexpected edition.My Profile

    • Kel says:

      “We always ensure going to bed is a time of peace and happiness and not contention.” – I love that, Sif. This is what we strive for every night. I love that one of them does their homework too! How fabulous!
      Thanks for sharing all this. It’s really helpful. :)

  7. Ooooooo, I would have loved to have been part of that conversation. If it happened after 8.30pm, then I was probably struggling to get my toddler to bed. I would love to place bets that ours goes to bed the latest. She’s been dilly-dallying lately and we’d be lucky to have her asleep at 8.30pm. She’s 2. Lately she’s been fussing, getting up, asking for drinks, cuddles, climbing into our bed, wanting to be with her baby sister (who’s usually having a feed after we send the toddler to bed), etc. Last night she finally dropped off after being returned to bed numerous times. It was almost 10pm. Sadly, that’s not unusual. So she does go to sleep when ready. It just seems she’s not ready till between 9 to 10pm. If we let her be and not fussed enough to get her back into her bed, I suspect she’d be up till later!

    • Kel says:

      LOL! Oh Veronica, I can actually relate to that. Ella went through a period of this not so long ago and I think a lot of it was attached to Baby Holly being up. She felt she was missing out. This was when Baby Holly didn’t have a routine.
      Now, on the nights The Bloke in The Shed is out and I’m doing it all solo, I put Ella into bed with her milk and some books and tell her I’ll be back in 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I feed Holly and put her to bed. When Holly’s down, I go back into Ella and we do books, songs and jokes. I think she feels important because she’s the one getting to stay up later – even if really it’s just her usual bedtime!!
      The reward system really helped change her behaviour too when she was constantly getting out (we’ve used it a couple of times now when she goes back to her old ways!). It can be hard going (she had a few nights where she got out and we had to keep adding extra days until she was allowed her treat!), but it got through eventually!!
      In saying all that Veronica, I think some kids really aren’t ready to go to bed earlier. Some don’t need the same amount of sleep others do. xx

  8. Elisha says:

    My boys tell ME when its bedtime, i have such a strict routine i can guarantee come 11.45 am, my boys take themselves off to bed and call out to me to go “tuck them in ” They amaze even me !! Same at night time, we NEVER have issues at bedtime, one thing though i have never done , and that is make bed a punishment – ya know, “If you keep doing such and such you can GO TO BED!” i DONT do that, i think bed needs to be a safe place, a happy place.. and it works for me !

    • Kel says:

      “i think bed needs to be a safe place, a happy place” – Oh, that’s so spot on, Elisha. Couldn’t have said it better!
      And I love that the boys take themselves to bed. That is just fabulous!!! :)

  9. Di says:

    What a great post! Bed times have certainly got better in our house now that we’ve established the routine of TV off at 5, bath, dinner, tidy up time, teeth then bed. On a good day Olive is in bed having stories at 7. I think training Dad to stick to the routine has been hardest of all!
    Di recently posted..Operation Tidy UpMy Profile

  10. Rhianna says:

    Arrrgghhh bedtime! It is a mixed bag in our house, sometimes it is a dream come true and others a nightmare. I come from the belief that it needs to be a positive as well, no way you can get a good night’s sleep if you have been yelling, screaming and crying before bed.
    Rhianna recently posted..Thankful ThursdayMy Profile

  11. We put the kids to bed between 7-7.30pm but they can read or listen to music and have “quiet time” in bed before falling asleep. It certainly works for us, although our 7 y.o who can read really well now is usually up later than he should reading – we’ve had to intervene and start taking books off him to help him settle for the night…but it could be a lot worse!
    Kirsty@MyHomeTruths recently posted..Cherishing my Three Little Bears #1 – RecordMy Profile

  12. Naomi Ellis says:

    I am pretty strict with bedtime. We normally have all the kids in bed by 6:30pm (I need my me time) and now that I have a few older kids they go to bed at 7:30 pm. We have a routine that we follow and I think it makes a big difference to helping them settle down. Love all the responses. N x
    Naomi Ellis recently posted..I am a Mormon and Australian Mormon BlogsMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Naomi, I’m so impressed that you’re able to get your cherubs in bed by 6.30pm and 7.30pm. That’s fabulous! Having a nightly routine certainly helps us. I can only imagine how important it is for you.
      And here, here on the me-time! ;)

  13. Yeran says:

    awesome post Kel! Funnily enough I’d never heard of these techniques in writing, but i was doing them anyway lol. I am of the ‘don’t force it’ parenting technique and it does work, as you’ve shown too ;-) makes me feel confident in what I’m doing, thank you xx
    Yeran recently posted..Thankful Thursday blended with Things I Know… The Knight in Shining Armour Edition..My Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, that’s so great to hear, Yeran. Funny how instinct tells us to do the best thing for each of our families. And so glad to hear it’s working for you. :)

  14. Louise says:

    I have always been quite strict with bedtimes because it is a fact that children need their sleep. It is also a fact that grown-ups need some quality time too.
    When my children were younger the routine was, dinner, bath, drink, into bed for a story and then lights out time for sleep. I have to say that I have never been a fan of a night light because I have seen too many children end up scared of the dark because of it, ad I even know one or 2 grown ups who can’t sleep without a night light because they had one all through childhood – but that’s just my opinion.
    I we started with bedtime at 6.30pm, and then moved it up every 2 years roughly, so as the children got older they got to stay up slightly later. My boys are now 13 and 12 and they go to bed at 9.30pm and on saturdays they have a ‘late night’ and go at 10pm. Obviously they don’t have me read them a story any longer, but it is still lights out and get to sleep.
    People have to find what works for them, and every child is different – the real key is making sure that you stay as boss and don’t let your children rule the roost!

    Lou :-)
    Louise recently posted..Thankful Thursday…..SMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      It’s so right that each family will find what works best for them and that each child is different. I’ve enjoy hearing how different families deal with bedtime.
      I love that you change the bedtime every two years. That’s something I really want to look at as the girls get older.
      Thanks for sharing this, Louise.

  15. Yo! Nice post. I can see why this would work. It probably would have with our eldest who was great at sitting and playing quietly when he was the only one. But having tried similar things with two boys in the one room I’ve gone back to sitting on the end of their beds tweeting/writing/blog reading. We had night where they would be all sweaty and hyper and egging each other on past 10. This way they are asleep around 8 most nights. Can’t hear anything now so time to go have some DAD DINNER!
    Reservoir Dad recently posted..Wednesdays From The Womb – Week 33My Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, I can imagine a shared room would be a totally different kettle of fish, Clint. Love that you can get some bloggy time in though. Always a bonus! And that you’ve found something that works for you. :)

  16. Thanks for the link back, Kellie!

    Great post. Bedtime here is a very simple routine: bedtime is announced (either by a tired child or an exhausted parent or two!), teeth are brushed, nappy is put on, she lies down, we give her a kiss and walk out. That’s it. Except… if it’s her Dad’s turn to put her to bed, he has to sit and recite a story to her.

    We don’t do bedtime stories – I find that gets her too over-stimulated again – but of course we read lots of books during the day.

    I used to have to sit in there with her until she fell asleep, and when she was a baby I had to cuddle her to sleep every night while she screamed. So, things are pretty straightforward here now, but we’ve worked hard to get it that way!
    Megan @ Writing Out Loud recently posted..Don’t mind me, I’m just throwing a tantrumMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      I love that your little girl is so willing to go to bed. That’s really fabulous, Megan! Bedtime is obviously such a postive experience for her. Why wouldn’t you want to go to bed!!!
      And I think working hard at it is the key! :)

  17. Amazing what can happen during a late night Twitter discussion! Thanks for RT and for mentioning me in this blog post. I love the discussion you have generated here, Kel. Well done.
    Lina@MothersLoveLetters recently posted..Baby Bed Time WishMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      You’ve got to love Twitter! Thanks for starting the conversation, Lina. Enjoying reading the posts coming out of it! Your post was just beautiful. x

  18. Lisa Wood says:

    Oh we love reading books to our boys – but have never thought of knock Knock jokes! What a great idea. I like the concept of asking children to love their bedtime by letting them decide how/when to fall asleep! How cute is that – your little girl playing dress up and sometimes ending up with so many teddies/dolls on her bed! Does she have better sleep when she gets to play for 10 minutes before going to sleep ? Love the conecept of getting sleep challenge the secret to getting your children to love bedtime….and sharing what works for your family.

    Cheers
    Lisa @ http://www.newlifeontheroad.com/
    Lisa Wood recently posted..The Best Things In LifeMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Thanks Lisa. And good luck with the knock knock jokes. They were a good idea at the time. Getting rather painful now!! LOL!!
      The quality of Ella’s sleep hasn’t changed over time – she still sleeps uninterruped until 6.30-7am. The thing that has changed is the length of time she’s awake each night before finally dozing off. When we tried to get her to sleep (lights out, stay in bed, “go to sleep”), the battles would go on for hours. Now, that timeframe has reduced signficantly. It’s turned the whole thing around to be a really positive experience. Plus, she’s not overtired when she wakes the next day. xx

  19. Kate Sins says:

    I need as many tips on sleep as possible, but for keeping children asleep not getting them there. Our routine is so ingrained in our 2yo that if it happens at 5:00pm he’ll still go to bed! But don’t get jealous – he won’t stay there and will often get up at 5:00am just to torture us.

    The other part I don’t like is that he likes us to stay in the room. I think I’m going to try the “we’ll be back in a minute” thingy… What a winner.

    A group of mothers should be called a ‘sleep’ – I have never given so much thought and energy to sleep as I have since Chatterbox was born!
    Kate Sins recently posted..One percent in 30 years.My Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, I so agree, Kate. I never realised how hard the sleep side of parenting would be! It’s tough.
      I have a suggestion for you, but totally understand if it sounds too far out there to want to try! When Ella was a baby I found this idea where you partially wake them into a semi-conscious state about an hour before their usual wake time (so 4am, for eg). So move them around a little, stroke their hair etc. The plan is it resets their sleep cycle. It may take a couple of nights. I tried it with Ella once, because she used to wake at awful hours of the morning, and it worked. However, I’m sure this could also backfire and you’d have a child awake at 4am!! Not fun!
      Anyway, just a thought. xx

  20. We have a routine too – bath, pjs, milk, cuddles, bed. Soph also has a groclock that shows blue stars when it’s time to sleep and the orange sun when it’s time to get out of bed. It’s working so far, she loves stars so she’s always keen to go to bed!
    Love the ‘licking the finger thing’ when reading, how cute is that !

    • Kel says:

      I’ve always wondered about the GroClocks, Marissa. Ella had a GroEgg to help with the temperature in her room when she was a bub. Now, the new monitor does all that, so we haven’t had to use it for Baby Holly. I still wouldn’t mind getting Ella one of the GroClocks. Her birthday is not far away, so that might have to be on the list! Thanks for sharing that! x

  21. [...] inspired blog posts from Kellie of Three Li’l Princesses and Lina of Mother’s Love Letters. I hungrily backtracked the tweets, posts and comments [...]

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