Friday, August 8, 2008

Psychologists’ Secrets to Bedtime Battles

It is remarkably exhausting to end your day with an unending battle with your kids over going them to bed, getting them to stay in bed, or even keeping them out of your room. For some parents, the bedtime battle is just an extension of other battles that have occurred throughout the day. Yet for other families, the rest of the day is relatively normal and healthy, and it is only at bedtime that parents begin to cringe at the thought of going through another screaming match over bedtime.

In this article, I will reveal three of my seven key secrets that I use to help parents get out of this bedtime battle mess. As a parenting coach and licensed psychologist, I have worked with thousands of families. I have seen every permutation of bedtime battle, and these three key ideas will get you headed in the right direction.

Secret #1. You don’t make bedtimes happen. Your children learn to get to bed on time.

Any time you keep forcing something happen with your kids, you will find yourself in a losing situation…over the long term. In other words, if you have to force something to happen, you can win the battle today. That is likely true. But tomorrow comes with another battle, and it only gets worse over time.

So this means…you can’t force your kids to go to sleep. You can’t force them to go to bed. The more you try to force it, the more it escalates out of control.

But don’t give up! This doesn’t mean that you can’t get them to bed on time. You can have peaceful bedtimes with everyone in bed on time.

It just means that you need to change your way of parenting around bedtimes. Instead of thinking about controlling the situation so that it happens "now," you set up the evenings to be opportunities for learning. Children learn quickly, and it usually takes 3-7 days before things are running smoothly.

Your children must learn what choices are going to be in their interest…. not in mom or dads’ interest. They’re not going to necessarily go to bed because you want them to. That’s not in their interest. You have to set up the conditions so that they learn to go to bed because… "It’s in their interest." Here’s how:

Secret #2: Establish a consistent routine with clear consequences.

Write down the evening routine, and do so in a way that gives you some leverage. In other words, after dinner, the kids need to help clear the table, take a bath, put on their pj’s, and make sure that their bag is packed and at the door. All of this happens before the TV comes on or before you read a book or before there’s any playtime.

Don’t nag, or yell, or prod or remind the kids. Instead, focus on control and the consequences to their choices….rather than trying to control the kids. Allow them to futz around and waste all the time they want. Just make sure that they don’t get access to any of the goodies that they really enjoy, such as their toys, or the TV, or time from Mom or Dad.

The magic in this arrangement is that the structure and routine allow you to retain leverage over the things that you want them to do before bedtime. In other words, they have to take care of all their preparations, before they get to play. This puts you back in charge. You no longer need nag, remind, push, or yell to get them going. Just patiently wait for them to discover that’s it in their interest to take care of their work.

Secret #3: Teach them it’s bedtime by shutting down their world.

Rather than engaging in prolonged requests to cut off the TV, or to put away their toys, or to cut off their computer, take control of the things that they care about….rather than trying to control the kids. Shut down their world!

Go in and cut off the TV and walk out with the cable box. Cut off the computer and walk away with the keyboard. Walk them out of the toy room and lock the door.

The tantrum or upset that unfolds is not your concern. Allow them to have those moments, and don’t worry if they’re up for an extra hour for a few nights. They will learn from this, if you stick to your guns.

About the Author

Dr. Randy L. Cale is a licensed psychologist who offers parental coaching through his website at Visit Terrific Parenting for more parenting tips and information.
Article Directory: