Note: The following blog post is based on a Bierman Caregiver Webinar.
It’s bedtime for your child and you’ve already gone through your normal routine, but you’re experiencing a variety of different sleep avoidance behaviors from your child! They may be crying, calling out for attention, getting into toys, making extra requests, turning on the lights, or even leaving their bed altogether.
Developing sleep routines for your child can be a challenge, but there are some things you can do that will help to set yourself up for success.
- Make sure high stimulation activities occur long before it’s bedtime. This may be gross motor movement that increases energy levels, but it could also be certain videos or games that elevate their excitement levels.
- Provide non-contingent access BEFORE bedtime to the things they often request AFTER bedtime. It could be physical items like a stuffed animal or items like hugs and bedtime stories. This will help to decrease their motivation for it once they lay down to go to sleep.
- If their challenge is that they keep wanting to play with things once they lay down you could implement a clean-up game and put preferred toys to bed, getting them ready for sleep to indicate it’s time for bedtime.
- Create positive routines that make PREPARING for bed fun. Keep this as consistent as possible.
Creating a bedtime routine
It’s important for your routine to be simple and easily repeatable! A routine that comprises a few steps can be important as it gives your child time to transition from any fun, energetic things they may be doing to creating a relaxing bedtime environment.
An example routine may be:
- First we brush our teeth
- Then we put pajamas on
- We get into bed and read a book
- We tuck our stuffed animals in next to us
- Last, it’s time to say good night and turn the lights out
It can also be important to make sure that your child’s bedtime environment signals sleep. This can help to consistently signal that there has been a transition from daytime (play) to nighttime (sleeping) and it’s time to go to bed.
- Make sure it’s dimly lit
- Have a special nightlight that you turn on
- Have engaging items or toys put away
- Have the room or space a cooler temperature
- Make sure their sheets/blankets are comfortable
- Make sure their pajamas are comfortable
- Try the use of a white noise machine in their room
- Try a nighttime timer that is one color when they should stay in their room and changes colors in the morning when it is an appropriate time to wake up
Responding to Challenges
Your routine is in place, now how do you respond to inevitable challenges from your child?
- It’s important to stay neutral and gently guide your child back to bed
- Provide as little attention as possible when you respond
- Be careful that you’re not letting them engage in any high energy activity
- When you bring them back to their room, be sure not to indulge in a lot of questions or talk a lot about why they can’t do this or that
- You want to get them to return to the bedroom and those sleep signals as soon as possible
- Consistent responding is going to be key; the important part is to guide them back to bed as consistently as possible for several days
The “bedtime pass” is a simple intervention that lots of kids have benefited from. You’ll start with a pass with your child’s name, and you can even allow them to decorate it to make it extra special.
It’s important that they get this pass every night and it’s exchangeable for one excused visit or request. So that means once they do lay down, they are allowed to get up within reason for a particular reason! It could be something like using the bathroom, getting water, getting an extra hug, or getting one question answered. There are certain things you wouldn’t allow, like playing with toys, jumping on a trampoline, watching TV, etc. This is something that you can discuss with them ahead of time and review the rules of the pass.
It’s also very important that it’s a one-time use per night. So, after they use that pass, they will have to present it to you in exchange for their request and then they surrender that pass. After the pass is surrendered, any other requests or questions are not honored, you just gently remind them, ‘You’ve already used your pass’ and return them to their room.
This can be a beneficial intervention because it sets bedtime rules and expectations. You’re still providing a little bit of access or a little bit of attention, but it’s in a more controlled manner before denying the rest.