Bedtime Woes – Help a Girl Out?

(Note from Kat: My dear friend Katie is one of the new Inspired To Action monthly contributors. I hope you’ll help make her feel welcome today!)

Bedtime Woes

So, I’ve been feeling a bit stuck about bedtime around here.

My older two, who are six and almost four are loving the “I’m hungry/thirsty/not sleepy/anything-else-they-can-think-of-that-can-get-them-out-of-going-to-sleep” game. (Although, one of my favorites is Anna’s “I’m scary,” which is usually her legitimately being afraid—not just stalling.)

I feel as if I am continually having to choose between setting the limits or savoring the moments. I want to build good memories of our time together at bedtime, but at some point I have to draw the line or they would stay up all night.

Bedtime Photo Credit

We go from great conversations like this one, to the next night Kenneth calling me into his room to ask me (again) when Cars 2 is going to be available on DVD. (Yes, we finally got it!)

Then there are the nights when I am READY for them to be in bed. We skip story time; I streamline as much as I can so that I can just have few quiet, productive moments before my mind and body shut own from exhaustion. Then they come down the hall, asking for their 23rd snack of the night and I lose it; yell at them to stay in bed and threaten various punishments. It all usually ends in tears and frustration—including me—until they finally go to sleep.

I hate those nights.

I enjoyed this perspective on bedtime, shared earlier this month by Sally Clarkson over at I Take Joy. I long for bedtime to be a sweet part of our day, but most nights it feels unattainable.

Help a girl out?

I know I am not alone in this struggle.  So, mommas of littles, what do your bedtime routines look like?

Veteran moms, how did you handle this?

What are things you have found fruitful in keeping a firm bedtime routine – for your own sanity’s sake – yet living fully in each moment?

Leave a Comment



  • Archer says:

    Katie! I LOVED that post you shared from Sally Clarkson. I read the entire thing! I’m a younger mama, since my oldest is only 2.5. We’ve had LOTS of bed time issues with her, but that article really helped give me fresh perspective on the opportunity bed time is to love on my kids. Our daily bed time routine is bath, read books, pray, tell a (made-up) story, sing… in that order. Its intense!

  • Theresa says:

    We have a 4yr, 3yr, 1yr old and a 5 week old…and are just pretty much dying to get them tucked into their beds and revel in our quiet alone time together. It is a struggle…between not just “dumping” them into their beds and yet making the late evening a priority to spend it with my hubby before it gets too late. I am anxious to read comments!

    I’d also like to hear more ideas on what to say to “bless” your child.

  • Julianna says:

    Great questions! And I, too, want to thank you for linking Sally Clarkson’s post. Such excellent thoughts. My kiddos are 13, 10, 8 and 6. We follow a very similar routine as well. Sometimes, when they’re especially tense or wound up, I’ll suggest a lavender rub. A light mist of lavender oil on their little backs and a gentle massage with a lullaby or two is a lovely, peaceful way to lull them to sleep after a long day. (Just be careful or mama might fall asleep, too!) Looking forward to hearing other suggestions that come your way!

  • JennJenn says:

    If I can sense Bunny’s going to have a go at not going down I’ll try to get her up to bed a couple of minutes earlier to accommodate. We have a fixed routine. Story (or short movie), lights out, prayers and a cuddle and then a very long drawn out night night. Okay… so I’m no real help to you at all. I hardly ever have bedtime issues. I think it’s because I go to bed pretty close after the Bunny. She goes down at 19:30 and I bath, put the bread on and do the same (around 9pm).

  • Flyinjuju says:

    Hello – I have four littles and I sing to them and pray with them. The baby goes to bed first, and gets rocked and sung several songs. (20mo). The 3.5 little guy goes next. I sing 3 songs to him and say amens. He is allowed to have a few toys in bed and only get out of bed for potty. He is still in training with this of course but does pretty good. The older two (5&6 yr girls) get one song and I usually read to them out of a chapter book. They share a room and get to play quietly on their beds until 8:00 and then lights out. They can whisper to each other until 8:30. We are in the constantly pushing the limits phase, so we have a couple of gentle reminders and then there are consequences if they don’t obey. Thankfully that doesn’t happen very often. Who wants to end on that note. They know though once I tuck them in they are not allowed to ask me for things, come downstairs, water, etc. they need to have all that done before I tuck them in. They are allowed to go potty.
    I love my night time with all of them. It is worth the extra time spends, but it does help me to have a predictable routine of what takes place. I’m usually downstairs and all are in bed by 7:30 and the process starts around 6:45 with singing to baby. Hope that helps.
    Loved Sally’s article. Definitely makes me want to be more intentional and savor this sweet time.

  • Damsel says:

    Bedtime has been rough around here, too. Moving every couple of years with the Army doesn’t help… all the routines get thrown out and it feels like starting over every time!

    Something that has worked well for us is to talk about bedtime routine during the day. For my youngest (almost 3) , a short list of what we do is handy. It’s something she can repeat back to me: “two books, one song, go to sleep!” I say it with short, staccato words and a little lift on the end (like I’m excited, or proud of her for doing it). Then I praise her for repeating it back to me.

    In truth, we start way before she gets in bed. I anticipate her needs by making her do things before we go to her bed. After bath, she brushes her teeth, I comb out her hair and rub her lotion on her. She gets her pajamas on, and then I make her get a tiny drink and go to the bathroom. Then she gets in bed, I talk to her for a minute about her day and then pray with her, and we do the “two books, one song, go to sleep!” routine.

    If she says she has to go to the bathroom, I let her get up one time only. After that, I do the Supernanny trick – I just put her back in bed, regardless of what she says she needs or wants to do. I don’t say anything to her or kiss her – nothing that she would enjoy. Those things reward her for getting out of bed.

    It’s hard for the first few nights. There’s lots of screaming and crying from her. But kids are SMART. If you’re consistent, they’ll figure out very quickly that you mean business… just like they figure it out very quickly if you’ll give in. 🙂 After those few nights, bedtime becomes a sweet, treasured time to close out our day.

    We do the exact same routine at nap time, and I’ve found the consistency to be helpful.

    • Katie Orr says:

      Love the bedtime routine “tag line.” We have something similar, step 1, step 2, step 3. And they can do that OK, but the staying in bed thing is something different.

      I definitely think inconsistency on my part is the culprit.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Katie, this is so interesting! You would never guess that last night, after I put my kids to bed, I started reading “Savoring Living Water” again. And not too long after, my daughter started pounding on her door. I was frustrated! Here I was trying to meditate 🙂 But I had just read something in Living Water about how God knows about all the “distractions” he puts in our days. So I took a deep breath and went upstairs, opened her door, and decided to lay down on her bed with her in the dark. I didn’t know how long it would take. But I decided I might as well soak in the moment, because maybe lying in bed with her would end up being my “meditation.” It turns out five minutes was all she needed. I left the room and went back to reading Savoring Living Water. Funny how we bless each other, right? Here you and Lara had unknowingly helped me through my bedtime struggles last night.

  • Rebecca says:

    You’ve received many beautiful pieces of advice above mine, so I won’t repeat those. One thing that has helped me keep perspective anytime I am dealing with whining/stretching the limits is the simple thought: “I am training my children to obey God the way they obey me.”

    I want my adult children to obey God right away with simple trust and gratitude for all he has given. If I allow them to question my rules, or become ungrateful for the sweet bedtime routine we’ve intentionally created and clamor for more, then I am not training them to be adults who value what God has already given them and obey Him with a sweet & simple trust.

  • My precious boy is 4. He doesn’t like bedtime. But this summer we started a “routine.” He brushes his teeth, goes potty and gets a sip of water. Then he heads to his room to have “lego time.” During the summer I left his light off and he got to do legos by the last light of the day and then when it got to dark to see, he had to go to bed. That has had to change with winter and no more DST. So now after Lego time, I put him in bed turn on some music and sit in a rocking chair in the corner of his room. I try not to let him talk or play, and most nights I can do it without getting angry or frustrated. I have noticed, lately, that right before he falls asleep, he will call my name, and when I reply he will tell me that he loves me. And then about 2 mins later I hear deep breathing.

    *We had to stop reading books at bedtime because it became a struggle of read just one more (4 or 5 times) PLEASE!!! (angry inflection here, not begging & pleading). I will still read to him at other times when he wishes, just not normally at bedtime.

  • Stephanie says:


    I found it interesting that you linked to Sally’s article, as I read it when it posted and struggled a bit with it, especially since Sally is a friend and a very trusted mentor and encourager in my life. However, I think it’s good and wise for us to take stock of our own individual situation. I have five children between the ages of 1 and almost 10. We go from the dinner table (a nutritious, homecooked meal, conversation, music in the background, candle lit on the table), to a family devotional time with singing on the guitar, a short but Bible-saturated lesson, and prayer together. Our day starts early, is packed with reading aloud and books at rest time and other homeschooling tasks…we do lots of talking and conversations and hugs and kisses throughout the day. My children know that they are loved…we pray together, we read for hours. They do not get a bath every day, it’s not good for their skin or my water and electric bill. Also, I gave up the bathtub and tub-toy ritual years ago when I discovered that showers were quick and efficient. Of course there are mothers that wouldn’t DREAM of giving this up, it’s a precious time for them with their little ones, but getting on my knees and getting wet and wrestling with soapy little bodies was not a pleasant time for me or them, so we switched to showers. Even the baby gets “hosed down”…5 minutes and done!

    Bed time for us is still a ritual, involving getting a drink, reminders to use the potty one last time, “grab your books” (they may read or look at picture books at night), and we tuck them in and give them a quick kiss. At this point both my husband and I are ready to collapse with exhaustion. We are both morning people, we are spent. All this to say that if anyone out there read Sally’s post or others like it and felt guilty…DON’T! I don’t think she would wish that, either. Seek the Lord as to what works best for your family that will bless, nurture and encourage them!

    • Katie Orr says:

      Thank you, Stephanie!

      I go back and forth from endless pursuit of the ideal, to complete discouragement.

      Thankful for the reminder that God has made each family unique!

  • Kyndra says:

    We have a pretty strict – go potty before bed, take your sippy cup of water to bed, and while you may quietly sing (our boys 4 and almost two share a room and girl three just moved out of there into her own room), you may not talk, quarrel etc.

    Recently we’ve started letting the bigger children lie in bed and look at a few books for maybe 15 minutes if they slept at nap-time earlier in the day.

    One thing that really helps is one of us spending the first 15 minutes after we put them to bed monitoring what they are doing and enforcing the rules.

    I also try to keep naps the the big two to only an hour of sleeping and will wake the little guy up after about 2 hours. They go to bed MUCH easier if they are tired.


  • Rebecca says:

    A veteran mom is speaking up here. When I read this I had to grin from ear to ear because it brought back so many memories of bedtime routines and rituals with my children. All of these are good and wholesome for our children and should be cherished. However, those “call backs” I remember quite well with my youngest! I could so relate to trying to get to bed myself and then on those exhausted occasions ended up yelling and then falling into bed feeling terrible and guilty of ruining my child’s spirit forever! I think, though, that some kids need to decompress and that is why they do the “call back” – one more drink, one more question, one more toy….I finally said “okay” but only three “call backs” for mom. After that she had to stay in bed and not ask for me anymore.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks, Rebecca. I appreciate your veteran point of view.

      I want to give them them time to decompress, as you have suggested. I think I have been erring on the side of giving them too much leeway, and they are running all over me. 🙂

      It is so hard to find the balance between wanting to honor the way God has made them, and not expect them to become sleepy on a moment’s notice,while keeping the boundaries!


  • Andrea says:

    I was just reminded of Sally’s article last night as we were having a difficult time getting our kids to bed – she has such wisdom!

    We have one child that has struggled with sleep since infancy. A couple practical things that have helped us:
    1. Make sure she’s getting enough physical activity during the day.
    2. Give a high protein snack right before bed.

    On the other hand, it seems that some kids just are more challenging in this way than others. We used to approach it in a stricter way, but over the last couple of years the Lord has taught me MUCH about showing sympathy (I have sleep issue too, after all!) and viewing this as yet another opportunity to die myself. So, every night after bed time routine, I sit in her doorway until she falls asleep. Sometimes it is super inconvenient, but many times it’s been a great opportunity for me to read God’s Word and pray for my little ones.

  • Ingrid says:

    I’m a mom of 8, almost 9, and have been around the block on this issue a couple times (at least!)

    Be sure to have the correct bedtime TIME in place. If you wait too long past when they are actually ready to go to sleep, they get that dreaded “second wind” and that might be contributing to the problem. 4 and 6 year olds who are not napping and who get adequate active play most days should probably be ready to go to sleep between 7 and 8 p.m. (assuming a 7 a.m. wake up time, approximately). So, plan your routine and count backwards from, say, 7:30 p.m. to know what time to start your routine (keep it simple tho). Marc Weissbluth’s book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” is my #1 indispensable sleep resource and he talks a lot about the “window” of when to put children to bed/sleep so they fall asleep easily, helping you avoid the second wind that can sabotage even your most valiant bedtime efforts.

    Secondly, I use the “stall” technique quite a bit. When the kids call me from their beds, but their needs have been met and I know it, I holler “Be right there!” and often times if I stall a bit, they are asleep by the time I get there.

    • Amanda says:


      I LOVE “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”! It made such a difference in helping with my kids sleep. And we have seen the bedtime window as a very powerful tool…if we let it close everyone suffers. It is only now that my older kids are 8 & 10 that we haven’t been totally vigilant with the window. Our routine is firm and consistent for each child.

      I too try to stall the kids a little, especially my youngest, and often works well. I’ll tell him (age 4) that I will be there after I finish helping his sister or brushing my teeth. Most of the time, when I get there, he’s out cold.

      My other biggest help is to remember that when I get wound up and frustrated, everything takes two times longer. I try to remember that I set the temperature in our home, even at bedtime. If I can breathe and pray through my frustrations, stay consistent in our routine, it will be over much quicker and I will have time to myself.

  • MissMOE says:

    Routine, routine, routine! Have a set routine that signals bedtime every night. Setting out tomorrow’s clothes, brushing teeth, scripture time, story time, might be part of what you work out. But what ever you do, be consistent. And then to motivate them to stay in bed once in bed, you might want to have a star chart. Perhaps, they could earn enough stars to have an extra half hour with you one Friday or Saturday night before bed.

  • Corenae says:

    Consistency, Consistency, Consistency!!! I am the mother of 4 girls, ranging from 6-12. Early on it was brush teeth, read a book and prayer. Now that most read on their own I pray with them and then they all go to their rooms for quiet reading on their own. The youngest gets to have one book read by me then off to bed.
    I do have nights where I say just go straight to bed it is to late or I am to tired to move for anything. This is where being consistent in youth pays off. They know you mean it and 98% of the time they are excellent.
    Good luck and many blessings!

    • Katie says:

      Thanks, Corenae! I think this is where I am lacking the most. we have a routine, but I too often rush them through it, or have them do in on their own…which means the end up half dressed, playing in their room because they get distracted.

      Appreciate your tips!

  • vero says:

    I used to have this problem every single night. I started a supplement program with my 4 and 7 yr old and it has been like magic. Some of the things I believe have helped the most are: cut back on sugars and carbs, take a vitamin B complex supplement (I did this for 3 months only),, take a magnesium supplement ( I used mineral rich by maximum living) which has been awesome, I really see a difference when they take this one!!

  • vero says:

    I also had the older one post a bigg-o poster by her bed listing the bedtime “to do”s” This one helps with the “I forgot this or that” ordeal

  • Camille says:

    I have a 3 and a 5 year old. We seem to go in phases with sleep issues. We have a routine that is pretty consistent — bath, PJs, teeth, bed. Some nights they get a short devotion out of pre-school devotional we own. Some nights, if I’m really beat and Daddy isn’t home, they just go straight to bed. My #1 rule — they must stay in their beds and no toys are allowed. If they choose to stay awake (and sometimes my 3 year old son will sit up there singing for an hour!) that’s is their problem. I can’t control when they fall asleep. I don’t answer any calls for anything once I leave their rooms. They do both have water bottles for water needs and they can get up to go to the bathroom if needed. If they get out of bed, they are punished and put back to bed immediately. It seems to work. They rarely get out of bed (and I know if they do that something is really wrong for them to brave punishment!). They do not necessarily go to sleep every night right when they go to bed, but at least they are quiet! 🙂

  • Tricia says:

    We have 3 boys that are 9, 6, & 3 and what has worked the best for us is determining what each child “needs” before going to bed. I make sure that the oldest knows all the events of the following day. If not he will get up several times to ask. The littlest needs a little extra cuddle time with mommy and our middle child always needs that extra drink of water. We take of all of these things before putting them to bed. Once we turn out the lights and say prayers they know that they are not allowed out of bed unless it is to go potty or they will have consequences. This has worked really well for us and rarely do they get up. They do stay up and talk once in a while but as long as they are in bed and not getting too loud we normally just let it go.

    • Kat says:

      ” what has worked the best for us is determining what each child “needs” before going to bed”

      So simple, but so wise. Thanks for sharing that!

  • My oldest is 13, and my youngest is 3, so I’m revisiting some of the bedtime issues again! (And it’s a lot easier this time, just to encourage.) My dad was visiting me one time when my oldest was small and struggling with staying in bed and being “done” with the day. He listened from the bottom of the stairs to our typical bedtime back-and-forth, and then he, the man who is about the biggest pushover I know – I say this with love and adoration – told me, “She’s running an end game on you.” And he was right. My situation with my oldest was really a disobedience issue, where she’d get up over and over, because she didn’t feel like staying in bed. So she had to be disciplined and then calmly made to return to bed.

    My dad told me something that stayed with me. He said that when we set up a new boundary as a parent, our kids will predictably push up against it with force at first, until they realize it will remain in place, then they will gradually settle back and abide within that boundary. So for me, expecting an even greater response of willfulness was a help, because I predicted that, and I knew to remain steady.

    The other thing my dad said was not to expect the perfect scenario to happen overnight (no pun intended), but that if we shaved a little of our drama off each night, we were making progress. That makes me feel better still, as I work on grooming my kids and our routines.

    With my littlest, she takes a while to fall asleep at bedtime, so I allow her to be in bed with several books and a few soft toys, and after prayers, I remind her that she doesn’t have to sleep, but she has to stay quietly in her bed. She doesn’t even like to be covered up. And she does really well with having some options: read, draw on the magnetic drawing board, play with her stuffed animal or baby, sing. When she’s tired, she falls alseep, and I cover her up. I’ve learned to relax a little about bedtime, but I have really predictable routines and clear expectations, and for us, that works.

    Now if someone has any ideas for helping kids sleep past 5am, THAT would be great to hear!

    • Lauren says:

      We recently put a digital clock in our 3.5 year old daughter’s room and a big drawing of “6:30” above it. Every night we review with her that the clock has to match the drawing before she can call for us to get her up. After a week and a half she is starting to understand the concept, even if she’s not executing it properly yet. Hopefully in a month or more she’ll be executing it at least some of the time.

    • Kat says:

      We have a clock (don’t remember the name, but an Amazon search should pull it up for you) that turns from blue (sleeping) to yellow (wake up time) that really helped our youngest stay in bed in the mornings.

    • Katie says:

      This is great, Shannon! Helpful tips.

      I think your dad would say the same to me, most nights. I’ve become a softy. 🙂

      I agree with the clocks. We have one, and it is super-helpful. The kids know not to get up until the green light comes on!

  • Liberty says:

    CALL in for backup. When all of or some of what you described happens – I call my hubs in and leave the room. I used to do the yelling/screaming thing and sometimes still do – but I really do try to tell my boys I love them, but the jig is up. Daddy will be coming in to finish bedtime/read another story. but they can’t have any more of me until tomorrow.
    believe it or not – they actually understand the mom shop is closed for the night.

  • Keya says:

    I can’t say I go through this too much anymore. I have a 6 and a 4 year old and I give them a “last call” before their bedtime. So I say “okay you have 10 more minutes before your shower”. That means if they want to get a snack or drink at that time then they need to get it. Once they get themselves in the shower and then the bed there is no “escape”. They have tried to tell me they were thirsty and my response is “well honey you know at “last call” you should have gotten you something to drink”. But we never got in the habit of letting them do much of anything once lights were out for the night so they don’t really expect to do anything now. Hope this helps.

  • Sara M. says:

    I have a 10, 8, 7, and 4 year old at home. Every night, around 7:30 for the younger three and 8 pm for my oldest, we have our kids get on their pajamas, brush their teeth, use the toilet and get a drink. If I do all that, it seems to curb their “needs.” We also give out life savers to kids who brush their teeth (I know that defeats the purpose, but it gets them to do it quickly). Mine generally are pretty good about staying in bed once they’re in. The one trouble I’m dealing with now is my 10 yo daughter playing on her ipod in bed and stays up too late. She loses it the next day if she gets caught.

  • Becca says:

    We had the same problem with bedtimes. We had a routine and structure and still the girls were up and down for the next hour. I came to dread bedtimes. I don’t know how viable this is for you, but I will share what worked for us. My husband started working nights and the girls moved into my bedroom. If I went lights out with them they went quietly asleep. If I tried to leave a light on and read or tried to be up in another room, it was the up & down thing. At first I listened to iTunes and drank a cup of sleepytime tea in the dark. Gradually I began to be tired and ready to sleep at 8:30p with them. Another piece that really helped us is the girls start getting ready for bed at 6:30p and are done by 7:30p. We spend 7:30-8:30p quietly reading or listening to a book on tape. That quiet hour helps tremendously.

  • Just wanted to say I’m right there with you! My 3 1/2-year-old asks me to lay down with her every night. Then, she wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and wants me to sleep with her, so I end up in the toddler bed half the night with a back ache or kink in my neck the next day! I NEED to read Sally’s article

    ~a tired, humbled homemaker here!

    • Katie says:

      Erin, thanks for sharing! Glad to know I’m not alone! My 3 year old likes to climb in bed with us, but we are *trying* to keep her out. Don’t really have any tips for you, although we recently got her a nightlight to go right by her bed, and that seems to help!

  • Kim says:

    I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old and another one on the way. (Yay!)

    I honestly don’t think it matters too much what your routine is, as long as it’s consistent most of the time. My 5 year old girl tends to be somewhat emotional at bedtime and, in the past, would get out of bed with excuses like, “Mommy, I have a hangnail,” or “Mommy, this (teeny, tiny) spot on my little toe hurts.” Parentheses added. For us, it comes down to a discipline issue. She knows what the routine is and what the expectations are — that once she is in bed, she’s expected to stay there unless it’s an emergency. We have discussed at length what constitutes an emergency (blood, vomit, etc.) Because she does know what the expectations are, if she gets out of bed for any other reason than an emergency, then she is disobeying. That may seem harsh to some people, but let’s call a spade a spade. If I told her to not touch hit her brother and she did, that’s disobedience. The heart of the matter is the same, so the consequences are the same. The consequences can be whatever you decide, as long as it is consistent. Like I said, this may be too black and white for some people, but it has nipped the issue in the bud for us. Kids are really smart. They know how to push us. In the past, when we’ve gone easy on her because it’s bedtime and it’s easier to pacify the situation, it just goes on and on. And on.

    Now, I will say that if I goof and forget to have her go to the bathroom or something, then that falls on me. She’s obviously not disciplined for something that’s not her fault. Or if we’re out of town and the routine is messed up, etc., then you have to ask God to guide you and be flexible.

    But for the most part, every night, we do our routine, I lovingly communicate our expectations, and lovingly discipline her if she disobeys. It’s all out of love. And it’s what’s best for her and for us.

    Just my two cents. You know your kids best and God has given them you as their mom. He will equip you to parent them in love and godliness.

    Hope that helps someone!

    • Kat says:

      Funny story. I saw your name. I saw that your kids ages. I saw the BU logo.

      And I thought, “How funny! I have a friend named Kim, with kids that age…who…went…to … OH WAIT…”


    • Emma says:

      Thanks Kim, your post really encouraged me. I have 5, 4 2 yr old. We are having huge problems with the 5 yr old. The minute I say goodnight he wants me back in the room, constant calling out, getting out of bed many many times. It goes on for about an hour and a half. We have just made the decision that it is a disobedience issue and are dealing with it accordingly and after 10 days of being really consistent he is finally getting the message. Thanks for spurring me on.

      • Katie says:

        Yay, Emma!

        I am glad to hear it! We’ve “cracked down” also, and it is helping. We had a few good conversations about how these are the rules, and we will begin disciplining like we do other rules. We still need to use discernment to see what is behind the actions (disobedience, or a true need,) but we are making progress!

        Thanks for the great tips, Kim!

  • Amy says:

    I have 2 boys — 5 and 7 who are great at bedtime now. It used to be TERRIBLE! Some ideas that worked for us — we put them to bed with a wind-up flashlight and a few books in their beds, say good night, then set the timer for 10 minutes. They have strict rules to stay in bed unless it is an emergency (involving blood or throw up), when the timer goes off, we go to check on them and see what they need. Usually they have fallen asleep or are just content with an extra good night kiss. Now we don’t even need the timer b/c they are great at staying in their beds and going to sleep. And, when they pushed the limits in the beginning and got out of bed anyway, they lost a privilege for that night or the next day (no flashlight/books, no tv, no favorite toy, etc). It was hard work to get to this point, but so worth it!

  • jen says:

    Routines are huge for us, as it is for so many ideas I’ve just read. We do start lowering the activity level about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before bedtime as my 3 1/2 yr. old has sleep issues as it is and activity too close to bed seems to create the ‘second wind’ others were mentioning. I started something new this weekend…after our previous routine totally bombed, I took my little guy out on a “date” for a cookie at a local cafe and showed him the 5 index cards I had made. They have a picture I drew (stick people, of course and quite funny looking!) for each activity he does before bed. Card 1 = eat a snack of cereal or toast or fruit (he has eating issues so we want to make sure he’s not waking due to an empty stomach hurting). Card 2 = He does this little climbing game 5 times…he likes watchign me count on my hand. I found it motivated him to eat when I put an activity after it that he really looks forward to (but is short). Card 3 = go potty, get on pj’s, and brush teeth Card 4 = pick out 3 books (which I read to him) Card 5 = go to sleep with his toy bear. I made sure to put a happy face on this card for him and his bear! 🙂 As I carry him to bed, I pray over him and then place him in bed talking about how big he is now.

    We’re in the first week of implementing this and it isn’t always easy, but it’s been good. Having the cards has been helpful so that we stick to our plan, and if he tries to negotiate further activities, I just point back to the cards and say that we have to obey what is on the cards.

    Hopefully this will be the start of a new and peaceful routine!!! I can’t wati to hear other suggestions, too! 🙂

  • Trisha says:

    Here’s a very encouraging article about this issue.

  • Stacy says:

    I have 3 children, 13, 11 and 6. They all love to go to bed, and here is my ploy. Our bedtime routine is short- jammies, bathroom tasks. I read to them during the day, so I don’t draw out the bedtime routine. If the routine is too long, they get used to stalling. Once they are in bed, we snuggle together and pray, I give them big hugs and kisses, stroke their faces, and love on them a few minutes. Then…..I turn on the cd player. I am a big believer in using music to teach scripture memory, and they love the music I have found (the entire Seeds series, as well as Patch the Pirate, and other Bible stories on cd), so they are happy to be in bed, I am happy they are learning scripture (we also do the tradiional memorizing during the day, but this works really slick) and no one gets out of bed, or the music is turned off.

    Works like a charm, and I have been doing this since my 13 yr old was very little. I mean, c’mon. It’s boring to just lay there. 🙂


  • Michal says:

    We have a 3-year old and 4-year-old who share a bedroom. We have all the same problems, but my best advice is to find a routine and stick to it. No kid NEEDS a drink 20 minutes after their first, so if they go to the bathroom, get a drink, and have a snack BEFORE bedtime, then you can say “no” without second-guessing yourself and feeling bad. Sticking to a routine does not mean we cannot savor the moments–it actually helps us do so. Also, if our expectations for obedience from our children vary dramatically according to how tired WE are, we are essentially teaching our kids that it’s okay to manipulate us as long as we’re in a good mood. (I’m talking to myself here). So we’re tryin to establish a more consistent bedtime, and keep expectations realistic.

  • My oldest (currently 3.5) used to be horrible at sleeping. Things changed when we did a few things: move her into a twin sized bed from a toddler bed, and created a rhythm that was beneficial to her sleep needs (and the needs of my husband and I).

    We’re not clockwork but we do end up in bed around 8pm. Before hand, it’s brush teeth, potty, drink, pray, read Bible stories, talk, lay down. I do lay down with her until she falls asleep – it’s so beneficial for me because I have problems of my own resting. So laying with her forces me to rest. I either listen to podcasts or audiobooks on the iPod, pray, or just doze off.

    Hyland’s Calms Forte 4 Kids also comes in handy, as needed of course.

  • Krissa says:

    I hear you! “I feel as if I am continually having to choose between setting the limits or savoring the moments.” That’s exactly how I feel…I hate when bedtime ends on a bad note. I want it to be this sweet time, but when my daughter pushes the limits and I’m at the end of a long day, I often lose my patience. I’ve recently started a little incentive program for my 5 yr. old…once she has 10 nights of going down and staying down, she gets a slumber party with me. This means that she gets to stay up, we watch a movie together, and then she gets to sleep in my bed. It’s a fun time that I enjoy with her, it gets me to go to bed early on that night, and it’s been working well so far.

  • Bren says:

    When we moved to Thailand everything went in a tail-spin. My three year old all of a sudden needed me to sleep with her every night until she fell asleep and my 12 year old decided she didn’t have a bedtime. Luckily, my 18 month old was still on track, but demanded to nurse fully before she went to sleep.

    I decided it was time to set a routine and try to stick with it consistently every night no matter what. I started with having dinner on time (5:30 – 6 p.m.), followed by a bath for the girls. If they were playing well I might clean up the kitchen first, but I usually save it until later. While they bathe and I watch them, I set up a few toys to play with after bathtime — quiet toys to help them wind down. A doctor’s kit, dress up dolls or something like that. Then when we have played for awhile I have them each pick out a book to read. We kneel or sit by my now four-year old’s bed and say our prayers. After we say three prayers — Angel of God, Hail Mary and Our Father, I let them say a special intention or prayer of their own. If they do not sit for prayer time or misbehave, they do not get to say a special intention or prayer of their own. Then we read the books and I tuck them each in separately with a song or two and a back rub. It sounds like a lot, but we are usually completely finished by 8:30. They know the routine now so we stick to task. Often my now 13 year old will join us for prayers and our books. I really look forward to this special time. I do notice too, that if my husband takes over for a night he has an awful time getting them to bed. I think this is because he does not follow my routine.

  • Krista R says:

    We have three little ones, and our fourth is due in just over a month. Once he arrives, we will have 4 sweet blessings, ages 4 & under. Yet, bedtime is one of the easiest, more coordinated times in our day. Our evenings go like this:

    1) Immediately after dinner, baths, pj’s and brush teeth. One of us tackles this while the other straightens up the kitchen.
    2) Family devotions and prayer time on the couch. We reserve this time for Scripture reading (often with a family devo book, or our favorite – the Jesus Storybook Bible) and not other children’s books. We do this for several reasons: A – My husband leaves at 6:30am for work, thus misses the kiddos waking at 7am, and he very much hates to miss out on devo time with the kids! B – The kids and I read several stories throughout the day, so they get no lack of other literature. C – We find that when the Word is fresh on their mind, there tends to be a Spirit given conviction for obedience! 🙂 This time also brings on great question and answer times, as well as conversations about what has happened during our days. At this young age, we find that having these moments in a family atmosphere is both efficient and connecting, as we can all encourage one another and support one another. As they get older (pre-teen) I’m sure our format will change some to be more individual, but by that age, they won’t need bathing by us, and therefore we will have more time in the evenings!
    3) Family prayer time. We each take a turn praying and thanking the Lord for the day, and bringing requests before Him. Our children love to make a list throughout the day of what they want to pray for, even if we’ve already prayed for it at some time earlier in the day!
    4) One last chance for bathroom, then tucked in by Mama & Daddy together. Each child gets a kiss and an “I Love You” from each of us. We make sure that if one of us is out for the evening, we always come straight in to kiss them when we return, even if they are sleeping. For some reason, their little minds register it if we skip it, and then we can expect a midnight waking for a kiss and hug! 🙂

    We’ve found that this format works extremely well for several reasons. First, because the discussion and connection time has happened before the command to “go to bed” is given, there is little wiggle room for argument, and no chance to miss out on those amazing moments. Second, if we know that we’ve addressed all physical issues, there is no chance for a true manipulation to happen.

    One note on the “I’m scared” issue: We have faced this often with our son, who is 3. Our best defense (as he is genuinely scared) has been to help him memorize Scripture verses dealing with fear, and how God is with us always. His favorite, in child-friendly paraphrase, is Genesis 28:13a & 15a “I am the Lord. I am with you and will watch over you.” He is currently memorizing 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.” When this issue arises for any of our children, we tuck them back in, pray with them, and help them to repeat one or two of their verses. Then we instruct them to whisper them in their bed as they fall asleep. Because Satan cannot stand God’s Word, and flees at His name, we rarely have to deal with “I’m scared” more than once or twice a week – and only for a few short moments! Added to that is the bonus that we get to teach our child to do spiritual battle at a very young age! 🙂 How awesome that as parents we get to instill this into them from the very beginning, and show them in their own lives how the Word of the Lord is living and powerful. We will be praying for you to find exactly the routine and moments that God has designed for your family! They are truly amazing, and we would never want to miss out on any of them. But one of my favorite quotes from our pastor is, “God is a God of order – the disorder in this world was brought on by man!” Because I find this to be true throughout scripture, I believe that in some things (especially bedtime 😉 the order is necessary and Spirit inspired! 🙂

  • Jill says:

    I don’t know if I qualify as a “vetran” mom (my children are 9, 7, and 4) but here’s what I have learned…..
    Routine is necessary, as you know. Even when I’m exhausted, I do it becuase if I don’t, I will pay the price. I start with showers after dinner. Then, I set a snack out for them. (If I just say,”get yourself a snack,” it won’t happen.) While they eat, I read to them. I homeschool so we read everynight as part of our school. When we are done, they brush teeth and get into beds. My 9 year old reads himself in his bed while I tuck in the girls and read them another story of their choice. We talk about what is happening the next day and I ask them if there is anything they want to pray about. If so, we talk about it and then pray. If not, we just say a prayer that Mommy picks. Then lights out and I go to my son. I ask him if he wants to pray about anything and go through the same routine as the girls. We always end with a hug, kiss, and “I love yous”. I also try to thank them for something they did that day. I find that when I take the time to do this, I’m tired but happier and more relaxed. When our evening ends in screaming, threatening, and finally passed out kids, I am on edge, feeling guilty, and unable to sleep. I want to wake them up and tell them sorry. I hate it. Sometimes it happens, we are NOT perfect but we try. Good thing we are blessed with God’s grace 🙂


  • Rachel says:

    We do a group hug in the living before our kids go off to brush their teeth and get in bed. Then in each room we hug/kiss, say our prayers, then ask each other two questions 1) what was the best part of your day? 2) what was the bad part of your day? After those are answered, we bless each other (usually saying, Jesus loves you and so do I, while making the sign of the cross on their forehead) and then we hug/kiss again and it’s lights out with a blown kiss as we shut the door. If the kids want a special ‘something’ before bed, it’s starting bedtime routine earlier so that they are still lights-out at the same time. (this could be a book read or time to talk, etc.) We don’t budge much on bedtime routines, because we know we need our time to unwind, and they know we don’t budge, so they’ve just adapted that and accept it. We don’t allow fits, water breaks, or excessive potty breaks (before bed and one more and that’s all). These are all clearly tools to procrastinate and promoting procrastination tools (and when older it’s called ‘manipulation’) is not respectful or loving to anyone, so we don’t allow it to be a habit formed. We have not ever had seasons, never, of having a hard time with our kids going to bed and they are 11, 7 and 3 now. Thanks!

  • sandi says:

    our three children (8,7,3) all go to bed at 7:30. when the older two were little i placed a cd player in the hallway with soothing music for them to listen to while winding down. now after brushing teeth and going potty, they can pick a book off the bookshelf and read in bed for 15 minutes before lights out. like rachel posted before me, we have not allowed the getting out of bed to become habit forming.

    our oldest viewed a movie we would not have allowed him to see at a neighbors house one afternoon and for several nights had anxiety. when he closed his eyes the “bad” thoughts from the movie were in his head. he would come downstairs almost in tears trying to solve this issue. since this was out of the norm, we tried to help him with the issue. instead of a book, we prayed specifically for the thoughts to go away and had him read some chapters in proverbs to give him something positive to think about. that is about the only night time issue i can recall.

  • Joyce says:

    I’m definitely going to have to come back and read all these comments because there are just days when it is crazy. Most days our routine works. We have a small snack, bathroom and wash up, each of my girls (I have 2 – a 4.5yo and a 2.5yo) get to choose a short book to read (we’re bookworms!), and then we have our Bible time (which is their favorite!), last chance for the bathroom and sip of water, lights out, (the girls share a room) we each share what our favorite part of the day was, and last but not least we all take turns to pray. I love that my girls love to read the Bible and pray, but I think the best part of our routine is the telling of our favorite part of the day because even if one (or more) of us are feeling in a crummy mood, thinking about that one thing that was great about the day makes everything a little better. I love Sally’s post that you linked.

  • Crystal says:

    I have 3 kids that are 4, 2 and 8 months. My husband and I have the same bedtime routine every night. We all pile in our 4 year old’s bed for storytime. As soon as the story is over, our 2 year old (the snoozer) shouts “Nigh Nigh Time!” and we all take them to their rooms starting with the youngest. When it it’s Harper’s turn (the 4 year old) she starts the negotiating process to stay up later. We explain to her that she needs her sleep if she wants to do whatever fun/playtime is coming up that week. We tell her if she doesn’t sleep, then she will be too tired to go or play. It works for now. Let’s just hope it continues.

  • Emily says:

    Okay, I don’t have any special tricks either. 🙁 Sorry! But my boys are now 9 and 6, and they are decent about bedtime. (Side note – my mother cannot understand at all about bedtime, since my sister & I appear to have been angels in disguise and always went right to sleep.) At this age, they can read in bed and shut the lamps off themselves, so that’s what we do. And they get really mad at me if I take away that reading time, or their shower, or whatever! But sometimes that’s the consequence for having a really bad time after they get home from school. We don’t do family prayers, but sometimes they do say one or two at the end of the day; and always there is the potty & teeth routine. Our oldest is beginning to shower in the mornings, so it’s hit & miss at night. Both of them will come to ask me if I’m coming to say one more good-night after reading, and sometimes I stall as well to see if they drop off on their own. 🙂 Mostly, I just remind myself that it’s temporary and in another 10-12 years they won’t be there at all – they’ll be at college, or on their own. The last 10 years have flown by, so I know it will be here before I’m ready. 🙁 Then I give them one more kiss, even if I was in the middle of washing dishes or on the phone long-distance, and tell myself I’m lucky that they love me so much. 🙂

  • Catherine says:

    I would also recommend routine, routine, routine. We had very strict routines with our kids from when they were babies – always the same time, always the same lead up. But, from when the youngest one was just over 1 yr old, we started moving around the world (we are on our 3rd country in 4 years) and our routines got messed up royally! We have run the gamut of every possible issue I feel but I always come back to a very solid routine. A couple of things that have stood out as being helpful?
    1. Early’ish dinnertime (so they eat well and aren’t hungry later – though I do give a nutritious snack later sometimes before bed if the kids seem to be going through a ‘growing’ phase and are genuinely hungry – plus they do a lot of sport so sometimes need it). When my kids were babies/toddlers, dinnertime was at 5pm and that was perfect. Now that they are older (9 and 6) I still don’t like to go past 6.30pm too often.
    2. No screen time after 5pm. This gives their brains time to settle down from any stimulus if they have been playing a game or anything like that.
    3. Make the routine efficient with some special touches thrown in. We ALWAYS have storytime with our youngest and our oldest reads herself. Then lots of cuddles for the younger one to go off to sleep (he likes to have someone sit beside him until he goes to sleep but he goes to sleep quickly). Then I usually sit in a chair in my daughter’s room and read with her. She will often roll over and go to sleep before it is even time to put the light out. If I don’t do this regularly (I don’t do it every single night), I have the most trouble with her coming back out constantly. It also gives me a chance to catch up on my own reading.
    4. Probably the most helpful advice I had was that the children weren’t coming out just to annoy me, they were having trouble letting me go until morning. Hence the fears, the requests, etc. If I make the time to really connect with them they are much more comfortable and at ease about going to sleep.
    That sounds long winded but in reality doesn’t take long and I can have them both asleep by 8 or 8.30pm. They don’t have to get up until after 7.30pm so that works for us. I used to get really worked up that we lost our early routine of being able to read a story, kiss them and then walk out while they happily went to sleep on their own but I understand that our changing circumstances has changed that dynamic for them and they need some extra reassurance. Learning to trust your instincts in any given situation helps too I think. (by the way, I don’t want to give the impression that I have it totally sorted every single night – we still have nights when I could tear my hair out. But they are rare thankfully!)

  • […] I put a plea out there for my bedtime woes, and you came to my rescue! […]

  • We have 6 boys, ages 10, 9, 6, 4, 3, & 6months. When our first one was small & moved into a toddler bed to make room for the 2nd, he continually got out of bed. We had to start giving him a swat each time he got out of bed once he was tucked in. He learned in about a week that once we put him in bed, he stayed. Every night when we are not otherwise hindered, we have “kiss, hug, scratch back & sing.” Both parents, if possible, are present & we give each boy a kiss & a hug in order from youngest to oldest (sometimes I switch from oldest to youngest), but we do it that way because our oldest is a typical control-freak first born type A with very little patience, so we want him to learn that “the last will be first & the first will be last.” After everyone has been kissed, they all bend over (we’re sitting on the bed or smthg) and bare their backs. We scratch their backs as we sing Numbers 6:24-26 over them (the Michael Card version). We do have more backs then hands & so sometimes a big boy scratches a little, or a little scratches mommy’s back instead. They have collectively started making a mass exodus after the song for 1 more small drink & potty stop.

  • starrball says:

    I haven’t read the comments, so forgive me if it’s a duplicate:

    What are things you have found fruitful in keeping a firm bedtime routine for your own sanity’s sake yet living fully in each moment?

    Lullaby Hymns. When they’re all tucked in bed WITH their bottles so they are quiet THEN I often read a bible story and I sing lullaby hymns and praise songs. Currently it is Jesus Loves Me (the version from the Holy Baby dvd) every night. With this routine I end my day (cause I’m pretty worn out by then most nights) praising God. And as I sing to them and God there is almost always a moment of quiet peace and joy at the sweet little children God has blessed me with 🙂