“things have gotten out of hand with my girl … getting her to bed has become a nightmare…”
“it’s a temper tantrum the whole time… it goes on and on. Two or three books are never enough… She goes from fine to temper tantrum in a second flat… she can never make up her mind… We used to be able to lay her down and sing one song … What used to take 10 minutes after bath has now turned into an hour or more, and that’s if there’s no starting over with a meltdown…”
Caring for children is tough. Sometimes, though, it’s bad. Really bad. That quote above is a real-life experience. A child’s refusal to sleep can cause some severe issues for the family and you. Bedtime temper tantrums can turn an otherwise fantastic job into a nightmare that you just can’t handle. Can you do anything to turn this dire situation around? Can you save your sanity and the family’s sleep? YES!
I’m going to share what has worked for me every time.
Patience is Key
Why are dealing with bedtime tantrums so stressful? They test your patience. The stubborn persistence of a toddler can bewilder even the most steadfast of adults. The time, the screaming, the incessant talking, the constant demands… Any and all of these test our patience to its limits.
You must maintain patience and keep your own temper in check.
We don’t ever want to have two cry-babies in the room at the same time.
The mother I quoted at the top of the article was going through a truly tough situation. Despite the difficulty, she had great patience. This is what will make the rest of the process successful.
“Her vocabulary is great … she tells us exactly what the problem is, but … she can never make up her mind.”
One moment your kid wants blankies, the next she doesn’t. She says she doesn’t want a story, then starts crying because you didn’t read her one. She wants mommy, then she wants daddy, but actually mommy.
WHAT ARE YOU TO DO?!?!
The key to such a problem is mentally preparing them for each night.
In this scenario, the little girl wants to have control. She doesn’t wish to go to bed, or for you to decide on the spot. She wants control of her situation. One reliable way to reinforce the feeling of control is to implement a schedule. Putting this into the form of a to-do list can be extremely useful for children. If you make this schedule with clear visual indicators – pictures, and not just words – the child knows what to expect.
While the effect may not be immediate, if you and the child work on this system together, she can feel a part of the process. Over time she will come to expect every item on the list. This eventually will act as a comfort, helping the child sleep.
What we did in the previous step was to establish a structure that the child can come to expect and be comfortable with. From here on, we build on that structure. The first amendment to the schedule is a reward system.
This is simple: you award points for good behavior.
How you define these is up to you or the family. I’ll offer an example. In this situation of helping a fussy child go to bed, our good behavior would simply be “completing an item from the evening to-do list without a fuss.” Our points are “gold stars on the to-do list.” This lets everyone see what behaviors are needed and how often they’ve been applying them.
In my reward system, I offer rewards that the child gets to pick.
Giving children choices reinforces their feeling of having control.
My kids get to pick from
- Reading an extra story before bed
- 5 additional minutes of cuddle time
Such a reward system is great because it’s fun, and it helps children feel like they have control. Kids like control. Without it, they may feel powerless and thus likely to throw a tantrum.
Give children choices.
Did you know?
Most students prefer multiple-choice questions to an essay. Why? It’s easier to process. With an essay, there is an infinite scope of possibility. It’s also more possible to go off on an entirely incorrect tangent and miss the point of the essay question. A multiple-choice, on the other hand, helps you focus on the correct answer quickly and easily.
What was the problem with that hypothetical situation I listed above? She couldn’t decide whether or not she wanted blankies, which stuffed toy she wanted or whether she wanted mommy or daddy.
The underlying problem often is that they have too many options.
What can you do?
Offer them multiple options. Two to be precise.
- “Would you like to sing or read a book?”
- “Would you like to read this or that?”
- “Do you want to wear these jammies or those ones?”
This simple trick can cut down on decision time and still help retain the feeling of control. Offering multiple choices, in my experience, makes bedtime less of a fight.
Often a child is stimulated too highly to go to sleep quickly. This problem has only gotten worse over the century. The number of stimulants in our lives that can work at night has increased dramatically every decade. Usually, these stimulants conflict with a more natural sleep cycle.
Dim The Lights
One of the most obvious is the lighting. Indoor lighting inhibits our brain from producing normal amounts of melatonin as it gets dark outside. To combat this, as we get near bedtime, turning off most lights or dimming all of the lights will help your child’s brain start to get ready for sleep. Especially make sure to turn off any blue or white lights.
Limit Screen Time
Many parents already limit screen time, but its crucial that you cut-off screen time at least an hour before bedtime. This isn’t just for children, sleep therapists recommend against adults viewing any sort of screens an hour before bedtime as well. All the more so for a child that already has difficulty going to bed.
Make sure that the T.V. is off, and that tablets and phones are put away.
Beyond the exposure to light, this also keeps them from getting needlessly excited about something before bedtime.
Play time rather than screen time helps kids to get their wiggles out before bed.
As a bonus, you could find a way to change the lighting of the room based on the time of day. There are color-changing alarm clocks, as well as smart LED lights that can change colors. Having a nightlight that shifts from a dim orange (a sleepy color) to a bright, whitish-blue (the color of daylight) in the morning will help. This shift in color will signal to the child – both consciously and unconsciously – that it is either time to stay in bed or that they are allowed to get up. Once the child is used to this system, it can help keep your kids from getting up two hours before you do.
All of what we’ve talked about is useless unless we apply it consistently.
If you set up a schedule that you don’t follow, you don’t have a schedule.
Make sure that when your kid pushes your buttons, you don’t give in. Giving in to their pressure destroys consistency. If you give in, they will keep pushing, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before you give them what they want. This is why patience is so vital.
Sometimes the problem is that the child is feeling out of control. Perhaps there is family drama, or the parents are expecting a newborn soon. This can upset a child’s comfort. They may be fighting for attention before the newborn comes. It is crucial that the parents and nanny consistently reassure children that you will still have time for them. Most kids realize that a new baby will take up time that used to be reserved for them. Reassure them that you will still be there for them and will show them attention and make sure to do so consistently.
Become an All-star Nanny
- Show patience
- Give children a measure of control
- Create a proper environment for sleep
- Be consistent with all of the above
Implementing these four points have helped me to put them to bed, on-time every time. We’ve got a lot more helpful content coming your way soon. Make sure you are signed up with my newsletter to receive that when it’s available.