The long summer days are here — those long, long days. The late, late nights. The very long days with the very late nights. At least, that’s how it feels to exhausted parents who so badly want their kids to go to bed.

Mom: Okay, guys, time for PJs. Almost time for bed!

Children (in chorus): Not yet! It’s still light outside! Everyone is still up! It’s too early for bed!

Mom: It’s not early at all; in fact, it’s way past your bedtime. Please put away your things and get ready for bed.

Children (one at a time): But she goes to bed before me! But he’s supposed to go to bed at the same time as me! But I’m too old for this bedtime — no one my age goes to bed now! But I’m not tired!

Mom: Well, I am tired! Very tired! If you don’t all get into bed right now, there will be no treats or privileges for any of you ever again! Am I making myself clear?

Sigh. Putting kids to bed can be quite challenging — all the more so once summer hours kick in. Parents usually start off well. In sweet voices, they ask their children to get ready for bath or storytime. They gently tell their kids to please brush their teeth now.

That first round of instructions — “Time to clean up, guys, let’s close the books now” — is generally reasonable, kind, and loving.

Husband: Soon she’s yelling at the kids and everyone’s crying, so I come up to see what’s going on. I tell everyone to calm down — including my wife — but no one listens, so then I need to raise my voice. That gets everyone to bed, but it also upsets my wife. Personally, I think she should be thanking me for doing the job that she obviously can’t do.

Wife: I can do it and I don’t want him taking over. It’s usually all under control. He just doesn’t like it when the kids start crying, but he doesn’t understand that they’re just being kids, and I do know how to be firm.


Why is Bedtime so Hard?

Bedtime presents a struggle for many people, not just kids and teens. Many adults find themselves doing “just one more thing” — for several hours! But an adult desperate for some precious “me-time” wants the kids to go to bed both for their sake (“You’ll be much happier in the morning”) and for her sake (“I need my private time now!”). A battle of wills sets in. The uninvolved spouse may soon hear the sound of locked horns scraping against each other. It’s hard to resist the temptation to pull the combatants apart.


Strategies, Not Struggles

To avoid bedtime struggles, parents need strategies. To begin with, they need to be committed to getting their kids into bed at the time of the parents’ choosing, at least for children who are too young to make appropriate bedtime choices. Praise and even rewards can be used to encourage compliance.

Some kids, however, are resistant to gentle encouragement. They try to wear their parents down with exhausting, endless arguments. Parents must refuse to enter the bedtime debate, simply stating that bedtime is “now” and is not optional.

For those who don’t voluntarily cooperate, the parent can make a second request, this time adding that noncompliance will lead to a very annoying consequence (which the parent has already thought of prior to this occasion and will now describe in detail).

If the child doesn’t immediately go to bed, then he receives the consequence — which may be something that occurs immediately (i.e., he loses his bedtime story) or that he receives the next day (i.e., he loses his “good” snack in his lunch).

At this point, the parent will have to let the consequence do the teaching; the child may wander around the house all night. However, if the correct consequence has been chosen, the child will prefer (after experiencing the consequence a few times) to go to bed promptly. Obviously, choosing an “annoying enough” consequence is essential to this method.

If appropriate consequences are consistently applied, then, over time, a normal tone of voice and a quiet volume throughout bedtime will be effective. No drama is required, and no rescue will be needed. Having succeeded at getting the kids to bed, the parent can now encourage herself to go to bed on time, too! (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 597)