Acing the Bedtime Routine

May 21, 2024

Bedtime can often be one of the most difficult moments of parenting. It’s the end of the day, you’re drained, and you definitely don’t want to act in a way that could damage your child’s relationship with you or with sleep. It doesn’t have to feel like a deadlock negotiation or a battle.

In this post, we’ll break down why bedtime resistance is so common, steps to ensure success at the bedtime routine, and rules of engagement for when you’re in the thick of it.

Understanding the Resistance

The hesitation to sleep can vary across ages but it’s generally a universal experience for parents. For some children, it may be pent up energy or overstimulation toward the end of the day. For others, it’s a desire to spend more time with their parents or engaging in activities they enjoy. And interestingly enough, some children may actually be reluctant to sleep when first learning of death (as they may fear the two are similar).

There’s one important caveat to the methods we highlight in this post: if all else fails, be open to adjustment on timing. Studies have shown that parent-designated bedtimes can sometimes conflict with a child’s circadian rhythm (the “body’s clock”) and so you could try for a later bed time that aligns with natural tiredness.

There may also be cases where resistance or inability to sleep may be related to a more serious underlying condition. Trust your gut and consult with your physician if you think your child needs professional help.

Half the Battle is Before

Much of the work to foster a smooth bedtime routine is done in the hours leading up to it and the routines you establish days and weeks before.

  • Consistency is key: Maintaining a predictable schedule for meals, naps, and activities can help regulate a child's internal clock and make it easier for them to wind down at night.

  • Communicating norms: Clearly explain your expectations for bedtime behavior and involve your child in creating a visual schedule or routine chart. This helps them understand and anticipate what's coming.

  • Curtailing energy: In the hours before bedtime, engage in calming activities like reading books, taking a bath, or listening to soft music. Avoid stimulating games, TV, or roughhousing that can amp up energy levels.

Rules of Engagement

  • Reduce stimuli: Dim the lights, turn off screens, and stick to calm activities like reading or gentle stretching in the hour leading up to bedtime. It’s also important to remain calm during discussions regarding staying up later as yelling can cause overstimulation.

  • Handle stalling tactics: Children may often try to mention 'add-ons' as a way to stay up longer. This could include requests for water, extra hugs, another story, etc. Respond calmly but firmly, offering solutions like keeping a water bottle nearby or allowing one final bathroom trip before brushing teeth.

  • Allow for choice and compromise: Encourage your child to choose their pajamas or which books to read. This can allow for collaboration during a time when they may feel like they lack agency.

  • Positive reinforcement: Be cautious about over-rewarding for something that should be a normal expectation. However, praising them for positive bedtime behavior and using small rewards like stickers can encourage cooperation.

Here’s an example schedule:

  • ~2 hours before bedtime: finish up dinner and begin to limit screens

  • ~1.5 hours before bedtime: start to wind down—transition from active play to more relaxed activities like coloring, puzzles, or reading

  • ~1 hour before: begin bedtime routine—bath time, pajamas, brush teeth

  • ~30 minutes before: bedtime stories

  • ~15 minutes before: begin to tuck in, play calming music, say goodnight

The Work is Worthwhile

Communicating and establishing norms around bedtime can be difficult at first but as you continue to model and consistently engage with your child on the subject you’ll feel like a ‘seasoned veteran’ in the bedtime battle. And by healthily engaging with your child on this subject they’ll be equipped with a lifelong toolkit to maintain and foster healthy routines & habits surrounding sleep.

Found this post helpful? Share your experience and tag us on Instagram (, Twitter (@withollo), Facebook (@withollo), or TikTok (@withollo) and be sure to sign up for Ollo so you’re supported with all things parenting & wellness!