Take trauma out of bedtime

‘But I don’t want to go to bed!’  

Unfortunately, children just aren’t as keen as their parents when it comes to bedtime. They will often find a whole range of reasons why they should be allowed to stay up ‘just a little bit later’.  

Statements like: “But I don’t want to go to bed;” “Can I just finish watching this programme?;” “None of my friends have to go to bed this early;” “It’s just not fair!;” will all sound familiar to many parents. Bedtimes can be a very stressful time in households with the children determined to stay up later than they should and the parents tired and keen for some quiet time. 

In a previous article I talked about the importance of family mealtimes and how a shared calm dinner was a good first step in developing a good end of day routine. As with the mealtime routine, bedtime routines are worth the effort to set up and maintain as it helps your child to feel safe and secure, and both you and your children will gain the benefits. Your children will get the amount of sleep that they require helping them to focus and gain from their education at school the next day. It helps to build their confidence about their world and provides comfort. This routine provides the transition into a quiet time to settle and prepare for sleep. It can also be a wonderful opportunity to share closeness with your child and nurture your relationship with them. 

Insufficient sleep has been linked to a variety of consequences, some of which include irritability, delayed motor responsiveness, poorer memory and focus, and an array of health problems. 


Tips for creating a bedtime routine 

Create a short routine before bedtime that includes quiet activities that occur in the same order every night. Create a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep by removing anything electronic from their bedroom, for example televisions, smartphones, iPads etc. Significant contributions in research show that televisions should never be in young children’s bedrooms. The bedroom should be cool (if possible) and reasonably dark. Some children like some light and a nightlight is fine. 

A bedroom routine that works well in most households is as follows: 


Following a family dinner the children are allowed a little free time.  

Then its time for a bath, pajamas on, teeth brushed, and into bed.  

Once the child is tucked into bed this is the time for some undivided attention in the form of a story. Children generally love to be read to. Research shows that children who get read to as they go to bed are much more likely to stay in bed, settle and go to sleep. Reading to your child is important even as they get older, right through to the teenage years. Children love to be read to even when they can read themselves. It is an important time to reconnect with your child and show them that they are loved.  

Once you have finished the story it is time for a hug and then a good night.  

It is important that this routine remains the same every night because the routine cues your child that bedtime is approaching. If, like most families, your evenings are busy then keeping the routine relatively short will ensure that you have time to complete it every night. Consistency is the key. 

Always put your child to bed while they are still awake. You can teach them how to calm themselves and ways for them to relax. Teach them some relaxation exercises like thinking about a favourite place and focusing on different aspects of it, or tensing and releasing muscles in the body. These tricks will be useful for them throughout their life. Children learn how to fall asleep through practice. If you always rock your child to sleep, they will rely on rocking whenever they wake during the night and need to go back to sleep…yes, even if it is in the middle of the night. Get them into good habits. 

For many children and families it is possible with some effort to set in place good bedtime routines that will benefit the whole household. Change will not happen overnight but with consistency, change will come. 

If you continue to experience problems surrounding bedtime you can consult a child psychologist such as the Cayman Super Nanny who specialises in these types of problems and can work with you in the home. 


Susie Bodden is a Chartered Educational Psychologist and she can be reached at [email protected] 

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