Changing Bedtime from Chaos to Calm


bedtimeFew children like to go to bed in the evenings. After all, they might miss something exciting if they go to sleep or they won’t get continuous one-on-one attention from you. Some children, if new to your home, can be fearful of going to sleep in their new environment, be afraid of the dark, have anxiety about what will happen if they go to sleep and dream, or even be focused on asserting control in their new home. So the bedtime chaos can begin and struggles, anguish, arguments, pleadings, and all manner of testing limits can occur. As a parent, it is important to know that most children fight bedtimes but you do have the ability to make this a temporary chaos!

All children need bedtime rituals because they need structure and routines they can depend on to help them feel safe and secure. Setting a schedule for bedtimes in your home should be a team (both parents and children) effort and it must be practiced consistently. The children need to know ahead of time what the bedtime ritual will look like and what you expect of them. Sure, they will need reminders for a while until it is solidified in their mind and it won’t be seamless at first, but you will still need to be consistent in your efforts until they are comfortable with the process.

Determine a bedtime transition plan than everyone understands such as turning off the television, picking up the toys, children bathing and brushing their teeth, serving a light snack, and putting on their pajamas. Your transition plan needs to be one that works specifically for your home and family. Let your little one choose a stuffed animal, doll, blanket, or other transition object to take with him to bed that makes him feel safe, secure, and loved.  Just remember to keep the transition time short! The longer it extends, the more opportunities your child has to fight it.

Be sure you have created a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep and relaxation. Is the bedroom temperature cool? Is it quiet? If soothing music is needed, play it at a low volume. If your child is afraid of the dark, a night light may be needed. Let your child decide if he wants the bedroom door open or closed; you don’t want him battling “monsters” all night! Some children are fearful of being alone. If your child was recently adopted, he may need the extra security of sleeping in the room with another person to feel safe and calm enough
to sleep.  Remove ALL electronics as the lights, even when just charging, can cause sleep interruptions.

Bring in your own special bedtime activity, whether that is reading a short story to your child or having a brief chat with him about the positives of the day’s events. This gives your little one something to look forward to each night, some needed one-on-one time with you or another parent, and creates a lasting fond memory to treasure. It helps to make bedtime special!

Expect your child to try to circumvent this beautiful bedtime routine… at least at first. He may need to go to the bathroom, get a different toy, have a drink of water, or just not want to relinquish control of his schedule to you. This is normal! Don’t get angry; just continue to gently remind him that it is bedtime and this is what you have all agreed to. You may need to carry him back to bed or sit with him a while at first until he sees that the routine is non-negotiable. You may get to hear some loud and painful tantrums as he fights for control of his world. Remember, it can take a while to develop a new habit for all of us; children are no different! Just keep following the plan, and redirect him calmly, lovingly, reassuringly, but firmly. Be patient as the new routine develops and solidifies. Within a few weeks, you will probably see a difference in your home. The bedtime chaos has changed to bedtime calm!

changing bedtime

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.