You have probably never led a battalion of soldiers into battle. You have never trembled from mortar blasts near at hand; but, somehow, you feel that you have been to war. You know that children are a blessing, but you also know that you need to sit for about 10 minutes in ceremonial silence each night after putting them to bed, allowing your body to readjust to the reality of peace and quiet in your home. Each night after the kids finally go to sleep, you feel like you’ve been to war. You love your kids, but peace at bedtime is hard to find. Is there anything you can do to relieve the battleground tension of putting your kids to bed? Perhaps there are some things to do that will help.
According to Dr. Jodi Mindell, a child sleep specialist, one of the most important things parents can do to enact a bedtime peace treaty with their children is to establish a routine for them. In her book, Sleeping Through the Night, Dr. Mindell advocates establishing routines even at the infant stage. “Babies and children love routines and relish schedules. They like to know what is going to happen next. They are also better behaved when things are similar and follow a known pattern.”
So, even while your children are still in the infant stage, you can actually train them to sleep through the night on a schedule. Maybe it sounds crazy, but many folks testify to the success of training your children from infancy to put themselves to bed and to sleep through the night. What does this baby training look like?
Basically, the baby training strategy for winning the bedtime battle is one in which the parents take control of the child’s schedule. Inject routine into your child’s life from the time they are infants. You may think it’s wrong to impose a schedule upon your sweet, snuggly bundle of chubby-love, but it is actually the best thing to do for your baby (and your own hope for rest). As Dr. Mindell points out, babies thrive when there is the security of a nightly routine.
The thriving nature of a nightly routine is true for children as well as for babies. Dr. Mindell offers a chapter in the book which gives numerous testimonies about the benefits of a nightly routine. A nightly routine makes a plain statement about your expectations for your child. Likewise, a nightly routine also communicates order in the home.
Dr. Mindell tells several stories of families and their bedtime routines. Some families read a book together each night before going to bed. Others (with young children) recite their ABC’s together or count to 10 before nodding off to sleep. Still other families choose to incorporate family devotions into their nightly routines. Dr. Donald Whitney spells out the procedures for an evening devotional routine in his book, Family Worship. In this way, families both institute routine and order, while teaching their children the basics of their beliefs.
Whether you are working through the ABC’s or common Bible stories, the routine itself will help to establish order and expectations which should produce better sleep. The order might work as follows:
Each night, the parents call the children into the living area around 35 or 40 minutes before the time the children should be asleep. If bedtime is 9:00, for instance, the parents should call the children into the living room around 8:20. Read, sing, recite, pray, or whatever you have chosen to do together as a family. Then, finish basic bedtime routines: make sure teeth get brushed, diapers get changed, and children go to the potty. And, above all else, make sure children get a good night kiss with a loving hug.
After this, the children may wish to ask questions. Allow for questions because their minds are often racing after reading good material. After your time of interaction, announce to the children that they are expected now to go to bed. Further announce that you will be turning out all lights at 9:00, letting them know how many more minutes they may continue reading or praying or drawing in their beds before it is officially lights out at 9:00. (For smaller children, you may want to leave on a night light).
Keeping to this routine is sometimes difficult, but the children will demonstrate a natural acclimation to it. They will adapt. Just keep the routine. The National Sleep Foundation reiterates the need for keeping a routine each night before going to bed, as well as the need for keeping a routine concerning a standard bedtime and the amount of sleep you get each night. Children cannot keep such a routine or understand the significance of order in their sleeping habits. They need their parents to teach them.
So, parents, engage the battle for better sleep. Win the war against sleepless nights. Rest triumphantly in your nightly victory against unruly children awake too long or waking too often overnight. Win the war for peace of mind in your own home by implementing these bedtime strategies.
 Jodi Mindell, Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 65.