End the Bedtime War: Finding smart solutions to get kids to sleep on time

It’s been a couple years since I shared my first post on Montessori Approaches to Sleep, but with older kids comes new challenges and responses so I thought I’d update with Sleep Solutions & Bedtime Routines that will help end the Bedtime War!

Sleep Solutions & Bedtime Routines to End Bedtime Battles with kids - plus a free bedtime routine printable that kids can help customize to the routine that works best for your family.

Sleep has been a very difficult subject in my home, mostly due to Ella’s health issues.

For 2 years, she was sick almost every other week – with a total of 65 ear infections or incidents of strep throat. It really reeked havoc on setting routines and her sleep. In addition, her adenoids became so swollen during this time that they were blocking her airways in her sleep – something we didn’t become aware of until almost the two year mark.

That, coupled with only recently diagnosed seasonal asthma meant sleep was hard won and constantly interrupted.

I also work from home and would try to work at night only to get frustrated by her constant waking and crying which caused me to get further and further behind. My daughter’s sleep had a direct impact on my ability to work and provide for our family, which was incredibly stressful.

I will write another post that deals with the unique sleep issues for chronically sick or sensory sensitive children, because that’s a whole other beast, but for today I wanted to address what we’ve gone through since – which sleep routines we’ve found beneficial and also some great ideas I’ve found online!

Ending the bedtime war: Finding smart solutions to get kids to sleep on time

If there is one part of parenting that is both the best of times and the worst of times, it is bedtime.

Personally, I love sleeping; cuddling into my soft sheets in the dark of my room and slipping off for some restoration.  Unfortunately, kids don’t always share this passion of mine.

At some point, every parent runs into a significant bedtime obstacle, and it can easily feel like it is a phase that will just never end.  The desperation of parents to send kids off to sleep coupled with the strength of the resistance is a situation ripe for conflict.

Instead of a bedtime battle, keep your cool with these tips and suggestions.

Wind down for bed

This is a long-standing mantra in my house.  I fell for this idea after reading a book I recommend for anyone struggling with sleep issues with children of any age.  In her book, Sleepless in America, Mary Sheedy Kurckina outlines solid strategies to help kids learn how to prepare for bedtime and how parents can work with the unique issues they’re dealing with.

In this book, Kurcinka likens bedtime to landing a jumbo jet.  Does the captain suddenly nose-dive a 757 from 30,000 feet onto the runway in just seconds?  Are we asking our kids to do something similar at bedtime?  Instead of short-changing the routine for play or other activities, reimagine your bedtime routine akin to the slow, gradual process pilots use when landing an airplane.

Relaxing, screen-free activities, some personal connection time, and even things like giving your kids a gentle back rub or reading them a story can help this wind-down process.

Have the right ingredients

To sleep, our bodies must activate increased production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.  Kids and adults can trigger their bodies to know it’s time to sleep by setting the scene.  Dim the lights, calm the activities, lower the volume in your house.  Tell those little bodies and brains that the day is coming to a close.

Also, screens are a notorious circadian rhythm disruptor – so turning off all devices at least an hour before bedtime (as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation) is essential to a productive bedtime.

Discuss bedtime during the day

When you’re in the throes of bedtime, it is not the best moment to have a detailed conversation about how bedtime is going.

Instead, set aside time during the day to talk with your kiddos about the importance of sleep and get some feedback about what they’re thinking and feeling as bedtime approaches.  This is especially important if you’re putting more than one kid to bed – wrangling a crowd requires careful planning and lots of feedback.

Use a bedtime routine

And stick to it, every day.

Don’t let other activities interfere, except under rare circumstances. I know this is easier said than done, especially with more than one child. You want to give your children the opportunities provided by extra-curricular activities (or fun events) but the truth is that if those practices or lessons are interrupting your family’s ability to sit down to a meal together or get the kids to bed at a healthy time, they are doing more harm than good.

It may not seem like they comply or even notice the routine, but they do.  A stable routine is one of the most important things you can do to help make bedtime run more smoothly – prioritize it against all pressures.  Work backwards from when kids usually wake up, determine how many hours of sleep kids need so you know when they should be sleeping, and then figure when you need to start your routine.

For example, Ella is 6 and still does best on 11-12 hours of sleep. She has to wake up at 7:30AM to be ready for school on time so she needs to be asleep by 8:30pm at the absolute latest. We don’t do any activities or take any invitations that will keep us out of the house past 7pm and screens go off by then, too.

Our bedtime routine takes about 45 minutes. Ella finishes her activity, gets changed into pyjamas (even if she will just take them off an hour into sleeping), washes her face and brushes her teeth and then I braid her hair so it’s not one giant tangle come the morning. We read a bit of a book while cuddling, potentially call a grandparent to say goodnight, and then I lay down with her and rub her back while she chats for about 10 minutes.

(Now logically, that shouldn’t take 45 minutes – but kids can be slow, especially at bedtime, so I like to pad the schedule a bit so I’m not feeling frustrated or tempted to nag when it takes her 5-10 minutes to complete a single task.)

I made this printable bedtime routine chart that kids can personalize with drawings and you can set agreed times or an order to each task – grab yours on the bottom of the post.

A free bedtime routine printable that you can customize to the routine that works best for your family - kids can illustrate it to feel more connected to their routine

Find a solution you can live with

Often the solution to bedtime struggles is finding common ground that everyone can live with.  If your child requires you to be in their room until they sleep and this drives you nuts, ask if you can sit in the hallway outside their room.  If you child constantly stalls, limit the number or type of requests after a certain time in the evening.

More and more research has shown that holding babies and helping kids to sleep is both healthy and beneficial for kids’ growth and development, so don’t feel guilty if this is what bedtime looks like for you – and maybe give it a try if you’ve been resisting trying it!

Be patient, be kind, be firm, and be realistic.  Also know, bedtime in your house doesn’t have to look like bedtime for others – find what works for you and your family and go with it.


What bedtime solutions have worked in your home? Be sure to grab our free bedtime routine printable by clicking here.

Pin this post for later reference and for more parenting solutions, check out our Montessori Approaches to Sleep and 6 Tips for Raising Children to be Internally Motivated.

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