The top 10 ways to stop the bedtime battles – number 10 is lay off the caffeine and the sugar. That seems obvious, doesn't it? It can be really challenging but especially after about noon or 2, you really don’t want to introduce any caffeine into their diets. Really, we want to limit the caffeine intake anyway and kids become very fond of things like sodas and things that might have a high caffeine content. The research of Stanford University suggests that caffeine is one of the top 3 culprits for disturbing sleep.
Number 9 on our countdown is blue light, like the kind of light that emanates from electronic screens. Tablets, laptops, and televisions are very high in blue light content and the science behind this is that blue light as opposed to other parts of the spectrum, trigger the arousal sequence of our brain. It's like when the sun comes up in the morning and the sky turns blue and that activates us because we are diurnal creatures were not nocturnal, we function during the day and so it activates us. Screens tend to have that effect so we would recommend no screen time within an hour of bedtime. This might be hard especially if you're using the screen to babysit the child or to calm them down. I would recommend instead you go to something else like reading a good old-fashioned book, telling a story, something like that.
Number 8 is to encourage physical activity during the day. Get out and walk. Play some ball. Take the dog for a walk. Maybe go for a bike ride. This has obvious physical benefits. The thing that we are trying to do here is to activate the body to do what it's already designed to do. Physical activity allows kind of a reset of some of the systems in the body and makes it actually easier to fall asleep. You might try this for yourself as well.
Number 7 is diet. Encourage a balanced diet. Now this can be really hard because some children are very finicky. They don't want to eat their fruits and their vegetables and things like that. So, you look on Pinterest, there are people that have figured out really creative ways to get those fruits and vegetables into your child's diet.
One of the things I would recommend is have them available. I have worked with feeding therapists that work with children from a very early age to help them learn how to incorporate more foods into their diet and one of the things that they say is to at least make it available. Put it on the plate, put it on the table. You know some kids are so mad. They're like, “I don't want that carrot anywhere near my face.” Let's first at least introduce it. Get it in there. We'll get it to them as quickly or as easily as we can. I love to watch our grandkids eat. Our daughter-in-law, their mother, is so good at this. She exposes them to all kinds of wonderful foods. At Thanksgiving I looked at my three-year-old grandson, and he's just sitting there with a cucumber in his hand. Big old cucumber, just enjoying it. Make that available it helps to encourage eating good food.
Number 6 is one of my favorite things. Encourage a quiet time during the day. We are not forcing a nap, but we are encouraging quiet time and one of the things I love about this is it gives your child time to just sort of meditate, kind of think through how the day has gone, kind of let their body just calm down. Get their heart rate down. They may or may not fall asleep, that's fine. Everybody can benefit from some quiet time. And let me tell, for a mom, quiet time is heaven. It's a good thing. This is a brain healthy practice. Even adults should be taking a quiet time during the day.
In some studies done at Harvard headed by Dr. Ed Halliwell they showed that in addition to eating healthy, getting exercise and quiet times, having regular periods of prayer and or meditation contributed to what they called brain maintenance. You know that's interesting because we're framing this right now for our kids as quiet time but we're actually teaching them a very brain friendly practice to shift modes from the regular frenetic activity that kids get involved to something much more quiet and centered. And it allows them to become more self-aware. You can even add in some breathing techniques with your child to help them be quiet.
I'm going to use one of my favorite psychological tools for number 5, it's called response cost. This is a way to shift the burden. Now, is your child concerned about bedtime? Not really. They're probably winning the battle and that's why you're concerned. We are going to shift the burden of the bedtime battles over to our child. And we are doing that through cost response. I call it response cost because there's a cost to their response. Here is a quick way that you could do this or set it up. Get one of those little zip plastic bags that you can see through and put about 10 things in there that your child really likes. It could be tokens, it could be gum, it could be stickers, you pick something but it's something that they like and you put their name on the bag in a permanent marker so they can see it. Tell them, this is yours and their eyes will get all big. You explain that we have been having a bedtime battle and we are not going to argue anymore about bedtime. Explain the routine and tell them if they do it the way that we've planned, everything's going to go fine and they will get the bag the next morning. If they don't, that's okay, it's just going to cost you one of the items in the bag. And then you smile big because when parents are smiling, kids are thinking. When you run into what used to be a bedtime battle, you simply reach into the bag, pull out one of the items, “Okay, no problem.” That one goes into your pocket, it's not in their bag anymore. The next morning, they get everything that's left in their bag. That's called the response cost. That was a quick overview of it but it's a powerful way to shift the problem from you to them. Do as much of this as you think you can afford.
That leads us beautifully into number 4 which is to have an established bedtime routine. We want to make sure it's not a secret. You may even make a chart showing the time and the routine with pictures. It can be whatever your family wants it to be. Help your child to know what to do to be successful at bedtime. Don't leave them guessing. Keep it pleasant and positive and the different steps of that routine will help to prepare them to actually retire when it's time to go to bed.
Number three, consistency is sometimes the most challenging but I feel like it is one of the most important things we can do. Consistency with the bedtime routine. For example, if you do it today and then you don't do the routine for 3 or 4 days and then you do it again. That's not going to have nearly the same impact as, “Okay, we've got this routine. We do it every night,” then your kids begin to anticipate and expect that and it helps so much to stay consistent.
Number 2 is to create a culture of positivity and love. Seems like that should be known but I like to remind you your job is to love them no matter what and even if. And that leads us right to number 1.
I picked number 1 on this list for a number of reasons. We're talking about bedtime battles. How many people are required to have a battle? It always takes at least 2, right? If there's only one, you don't have a battle. So, number 1 is opt out of the fight, choose not to fight. You're not going to battle with your child. When you've got a bedtime routine and everybody expects what's coming, you get to very conveniently at this point to simply opt out. Use an effective consequence like the response costs that we talked about earlier. I'm not going to fight with you. This is just how we do things here. Calm voice, calm body, you got this.