Don’t Let the Children Stay Up Late

This post is created in partnership with Disney Book Group

If you follow me on InstaStories, you might remember that I mentioned a few months ago that we were having a really hard time with bedtime for my 4 and 6 year old daughters.

They were staying up for HOURS after we put them to bed, which meant that they were grumpy all the next day and that lack of sleep was affecting every part of our daily routine, from complaints about going to school to more fighting amongst themselves.

Basically, it was exhausting (pun 100% intended).

Happily, with some work on our part, the sleep situation has gotten MUCH better at our house.

This month marks Mo Willems’ famous Pigeon’s 16th BIRD-day, and since the Pigeon ALSO isn’t supposed to stay up late, I thought this would be the perfect time to share some things that helped our family in the ongoing parental battle for bedtime.

Like the Pigeon, my children are always certain they aren’t tired and have a million ideas for things that should or MUST be done right this very moment.

I hope they’ll be helpful at your house too!

Recognize that you’re going to have to be involved
This was the hardest part for me. I basically wanted to tuck my children into bed at 7:30 and then not hear from them again until 7:30 the next morning. Unlike the adult character at the beginning of Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, I couldn’t just ask someone to do a favor for me and not let my children stay up late.  I realized that with four small children at the stages of our lives that we’re in, this just wasn’t realistic and that it was going to take a little more hands-on effort for me to get them to go to bed. Once I realized that, my expectations about how the night should go were much more realistic and I was less bothered by the whole thing.

Cut out the before-bed play
Our girls play together best right before bed (naturally) which meant that many nights, we’d just let them play because it was easier than actually putting them to bed. Then, of course, the playing would end in tears or when we did finally send them to bed, they were too riled up to fall asleep early. We finally just agreed as a family that at 7:30 everyone got in BED. This right there made the biggest difference.

Have a wind-down time
From 7:30 to 8:00 the girls can read books in their beds (all of the Pigeon books are huge hits, especially for my non-reader because the illustrations are so engaging) or listen to an audiobook. Then at 8:00 or 8:15, I go down, turn off the lights, turn on some quiet music and give them a hug and a kiss. Knowing they don’t have to go straight to staring at the ceiling helps them be willing to get in bed, and it calms them down enough that by 8:00 or so, they can fall asleep pretty quickly.

Have an incentive
My children do not want to go to sleep – the idea of settling into a soft bed in a dark room doesn’t have the appeal it has for an adult – so we decided together that every night that they go to bed without coming out of their rooms or getting out of bed, they could choose a couple of pictures to color. I bought a stack of coloring books and each morning, they get to choose 3 (every time they come out, they lose one). This has been highly motivating, especially to Star, and cut down SIGNIFICANTLY on how much they come out of bed.

You can incentivize with other things, too, like letting your kids pick out a new book to read in the morning when they wake up – my girls are already excited about the new Pigeon book coming this July, The Pigeon Has to Go to School!

Stay consistent
It’s so easy to get in a bad cycle of sleep (Star, especially, will get too little sleep and then fall asleep in the car if we go anywhere in the afternoon, then be too alert to fall asleep, and on and on), so we are as consistent as we can be about keeping the times that they go to bed similar, both on weekdays and weekends (on Fridays, we have movie night so we might not be done until 8:30, but then they go right to bed without any listening or reading).

I’d love to hear your best tricks for bedtime – let me know what works for your family!

Photos by Heather Mildenstein

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  1. Bedtime has been a STRUGGLE with our 6 year old on and off for years. I’m hoping more outside time, now that the weather is nicer, will help wear him out otherwise these look like some helpful tips. Thanks!

  2. Basically I find my inner Ralphie and incentivize away. Because we aren’t cereal eaters at our house, the big incentive to stay in bed is having a small bowl of cereal as part of a reward for not getting out of bed. The lights on quiet time before bed is genius! I’ll need to try it out tomorrow!

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