Bedtime and Naps: Getting Them to Sleep

Mother reading to her two children
Yuri Arcurs/PeopleImages
Consider these ideas for getting kids to go to bed and stay in bed.

Are you looking for tips to help you get your kids to go to sleep and stay in bed? Try these ideas from parents who have been there.

Soothing Baby at Bedtime

Both my mom and mother-in-law suggested that my husband and I not rush to hold our son every time we heard a cry after putting him in his crib for the night. If he cried but we knew he was fed, clean and safe, we would simply rub his back to soothe him. As he calmed down, our touch would become lighter until the back rub turned into a pat, then a tap with a finger, and then stopped.

—Kim Van Dunk

When Your Baby Sleeps

The best advice I received when my child was an infant was “sleep when your baby sleeps.” It was simple and practical, but not so easy to follow. While my baby slept, I experienced a strong temptation to hurry about the house and complete as many tasks as possible. That was a wonderful idea for getting things done, but I found myself exhausted when he woke up again. When I napped while my baby slept, however, I was able to recharge and was ready to care for his needs when he woke.

—Susan Ross

Dinosaur Naps

When my son turned 2, he began fighting his naps. One day, I took his favorite toy dinosaur and said, “It’s naptime. We should put Dino to bed.”

We laid down the dinosaur, sang our bedtime song and said good night.

Surprisingly, my son lay down when his dinosaur did.

Similarly, in the evening when my son doesn’t want to stop playing with his toys and go to bed, we tell him that it is rest time for toys and that each toy sleeps in its appropriate bin. That phrasing encourages him to clean up and makes for a more enjoyable evening routine.

—Lori L. Barker

Stars and Sweet Dreams

When I transitioned our 2-year-old from her crib to a bed, her bedtime routine — filling a small water bottle, giving her a stuffed animal, tucking her in her blanket and turning on the nightlight — worked at first. But after a few months, she started to get out of bed multiple times each night.

So I tried using a nightlight that projected stars on the ceiling. She enjoyed staying in her room to look at the stars, and our rule was that if she got out of bed, she wouldn’t get to use the special nightlight. It worked.

—Emily Yang

Cleaning Up Bedtime

No matter what I said, my grade-school kids would find all kinds of excuses to get out of bed after being tucked in for the night. Putting them back to bed over and over again left me frazzled. But that changed after I created one simple rule: Any child who got out of bed was given a chore.

Suddenly, staying up didn’t feel like a privilege. My children didn’t wonder what the sibling staying up was doing. They knew their sibling was doing a chore.

Complaining decreased, and chores helped wear out the child who wasn’t sleepy. This chore rule also
helped my children remember to finish their bedtime routine (e.g., get a drink of water) before going to bed. And it reduced my stress because it was hard to feel cranky when the children were helping me clean the house.

When a child really needed to talk about something, I gave my kids a chore to complete with me. I have had some great conversations with my children while we folded laundry or dried dishes.

—Stephanie Haywood

Fussy Baby

My husband and I would carry, rock and entertain my 3-month-old to stop his fussing and get him to sleep. One day, I was too tired. He had just gotten over a cold and had been especially difficult. I sat down, and with my head against his, I hummed into his ear. He calmed right down. Then he rested his head on my chest, and I continued to hum. Soon he was asleep.

—Jackie Senky

The Sleep Garden

To help my daughter choose to stay and sleep in her own room, I taped a sheet of construction paper to the refrigerator. On the paper, I wrote the words: Watch my garden grow! Each time she lasted an entire night in her room, we pasted a beautiful paper flower on it. At the bottom was a legend with rewards: Three flowers equaled a new book. Five earned her ice cream from the grocery store. About a month later, we all had consistent nights of peaceful sleep.

—Holly Bounds-Jackson

Bedtime Bonding

When our children were young, they became talkative at bedtime. To take advantage of this special time when they felt gabby and reflective, I set bedtime a half hour earlier. This ritual helped my husband and me connect with our kids as they processed their day. Since they grew accustomed to talking about important matters, it became natural for them to talk about faith issues with us, too.

—Becky Cerling

Lulling Them to Sleep

My 7-year-old son, Dante, has fought sleep almost from the day he was born. One night Dante and I were snuggling in a big comfy chair, and it was clear he wasn’t going to sleep on time. I picked up the book I had been enjoying and began reading to him as I would a picture book. After a page and a half, he fell asleep in my arms. Reading aloud is the most effective thing I’ve tried to get my son to sleep.

—Paige Pitcher

Kids’ Bedtime Worries

For years, my daughter’s nighttime anxieties made it difficult for her to fall asleep, and she would routinely get up by midnight to let me know she was still awake. When she was 7, I created a “bedtime tools” scrapbook to address her specific fears and concerns. I instructed her to turn on her light and read it before coming out of her room.

Inside were five reminders, including “Say your prayers and ask God to help you relax” and “Daddy and Mommy are nearby, and you are not alone.” The book included pictures, such as us smiling, and simple Bible verses. The final instructive read, “Still awake? Stop worrying, pick a verse (such as Psalm 4:8), and meditate on it.”

It worked! My daughter found comfort — and sleep — in reminding herself of truth when she was afraid.

—Christa Sterken

Transitioning to Big-Kid Bedtime

With six kids ages 1 to 9, we have two bedtimes in our home. The younger ones are in bed by 7 p.m. The older siblings get an extra hour of reading and talking until 8 p.m. Our 4-year-old has shown that he’s ready to transition to the later bedtime, and he’s not napping every day anymore.

To help with the transition, we’ve set a rule: On days he naps, he is allowed to stay up until 8 p.m. But no nap means the earlier bedtime. This rule heads off any arguments — and ensures that we don’t have a grumpy 4-year-old in the evenings.

It might not work for every kid, but it’s been a good system to help our son get the sleep he needs while moving up to big-kid bedtime.

—Christina Lang

Singing Bedtime Prayers

My husband and I prayed the Lord’s Prayer over our two boys at bedtime, but they never responded to it. Then one evening I decided to sing it and made up a tune.

When I was done, our younger son exclaimed, “Again!” and our older son began to hum along.

Eventually, both sang it with us, so we continued doing this for years. The downside? When others asked our boys if they said their bedtime prayers, they said no. We had to explain that they sing them.

—Anne Skalitza

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