When Bedtime Becomes A Nightmare

Published on May 3rd, 2021

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

When Bedtime Becomes A Nightmare

Parents often describe bedtime as the dreaded witching hour. It’s understandable. Bedtime concludes the end of an already long day of working and parenting. By the time five o’clock rolls around, most parents hope for a moment to themselves but dinner and homework duties await. Once the plates are (mostly) cleared off the table, we are really ready for that break and enduring the painstaking process to “goodnight” is one that might involve some white knuckling and deep breathing. So, how do we make it all more manageable?

Routines and rituals add an important sense of stability to a child’s life, so it’s helpful to structure bedtime around a nighttime routine or rhythm. I’ve always preferred to use the word rhythm to the word routine with my clients, because routines, especially when we’re overwhelmed or tired, can quickly slant towards control, which in turn can bring about feelings of resentment and impatience. Rhythms add structure but also leeway for life to happen. Below are a few pointers on what a successful nighttime rhythm might include for you.


So often bedtime is difficult because it’s rushed. Aim for a reasonable bed-time, say eight o’clock, but make sure half past eight works, too. If 8:30 sounds too late, then aim for 7:30. Make bedtime a known time to your children and don’t deviate too much from the plan. Certain children have an especially hard time when plans or times shift, so it’s helpful to know your child’s temperament.

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Make an Anchor

Develop an “anchor” or a signal that demonstrates to your children the bedtime process is beginning. I recommend starting the process at least 45 minutes before their head hits the pillow. It may mean you start the process by turning on wind-down music. Or, it may mean fifteen minutes of story-time before washing up. Other anchor ideas might include praying together, or naming the day’s high points and low points.

Some parents enjoy the idea of a five to ten-minute mindfulness or deep breathing exercise in order for energetic bodies to settle. Ideally, the “anchor” is something that your children enjoy and builds connection and relaxation.

Include Hygiene

When children whine about brushing their teeth or washing their face or body it’s tempting to skip the step altogether, especially when they are younger. Hygiene is an important part of developing in maturity and responsibility. Emphasize the importance of brushing teeth so teeth stay healthy and strong. Be playful.

If they need help brushing say something like, “let’s make sure those sugar bugs don’t give you cavities!” If they don’t want to wash their arms and face gently show them how to scrub their cheeks, mouth and neck. You can show them how you do it for yourself, too. Young children especially, respond to these kinds of tactics and over time they begin to own the process.

Don’t Forget Nurture

Add a little something to your rhythm that makes your child feel especially loved. Some of my clients like to put some essential oils in a diffuser by their bed, or quickly rub some lavender on their feet. I worked with one parent who while her children were washing up, would go into their rooms, turn on the bedside lamp, shut off the overhead lights, quickly ‘turn down’ their bedspreads and fluff their pillows.

Over time, she noticed her children doing it for themselves or even for each other! You might enjoy scratching your child’s back or softly brushing her hair. The added benefit to this type of nurture is the strong connection point it makes for you and your child. Children have often recounted to me how important those last ten minutes before they fall asleep are to them because they have the attention and care of their parent and they feel secure. It’s often common that a child’s secrets “spill” when the lights are low, the day is over and they are tucked snug under the covers while Mom or Dad sits close by on their bed.

Try to Enjoy

As with any new idea or process, your attitude matters the post. If children are testy, whiny, difficult and combative ask yourself what kind of emotional “vibe” you’re exuding. Are you trying to control, manage and fix? Are you preoccupied with your work day and growing to-do list that you’re planning on tackling? While all these nagging thoughts are perfectly natural, try and set them aside for the sake of these forty-five minutes or so.

Most parents notice that as their own tension eases, their children ease up, too. After all, your lists and responsibilities will continue on well, forever, but these impressionable and memorable times with your children are fleeting.

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