From the time your children are born, their bedtimes will follow certain routines during different stages of their lives. From getting your child to bed without a bottle and graduating to bedtime stories, to trying to get your teenager off the phone and to sleep the night before a big test, enforcing kids' bedtimes is difficult no matter how old your children are.
Parenting experts say good sleeping habits should start at a young age, especially since sleep is one of the necessary ingredients in helping your children grow into healthy adolescents and adults.
For this reason, adopt different bedtime routines at different stages of your children's lives.
Birth to 2 years old. From infancy, your child is taking cues from you about how to get him or herself to sleep. In the initial stages of life, parenting experts say it's best to set a standard bedtime and stick to it. Often, parents, especially working mothers, want to establish routines early in life that will help children learn how to put themselves to sleep -- and stay asleep.
Some mothers will establish a routine by breastfeeding or giving their child a bottle before bed. As your child gets older, he or she may graduate to a sippy cup filled with milk to replace the bottle. This will give children the cue that bedtime is approaching when they finish their bottle or cup. However, be sure to brush teeth after the bottle in order to prevent cavities.
Another way to establish an early stage kids' bedtime routine is to read a book or two each night at the same time before bed. It's never too early to start reading to your children. Even though infants may not be processing the story, they are learning language and establishing pre-reading literacy skills. Or, you could sing familiar lullabies as you rock your child gently. Put your child into his or her bed drowsy but awake, to avoid the parent becoming a sleep crutch.
3 to 5 years old. The preschool years are when your children really need to get to bed at a specific time each night. At this stage, they can identify with routines. The proper amount of sleep is essential to helping them grow into healthy youngsters. During this stage, reading bedtime stories is key; it will help promote early reading skills, as well as help teach your children how to put themselves to sleep. You can also begin to turn certain tasks over to your children, like putting paste on the toothbrush or setting out clothes for the next morning. This will help build their confidence and independence as well.
6 to 10 years old. This is the stage when bedtime can start to get rough for kids if you don't set ground rules early. You may have two different bedtimes: one for school nights and one for the weekends. Kids in this age group often will try to extend their bedtime in an effort to stay up later to continue activities they started during the day. A good way to enforce bedtimes is to have a rule that all electronics –- iPods, iPads, cell phones and television -- must be turned off an hour before kids' bedtime. You may opt to let your kids read before bed during the last half hour of wake time, as a gentle way to wind down. Other families prohibit electronics during the school week and maintain the same bedtime on every day, to maintain consistency.
12 to 15 years old. By this age there are a myriad of distractions –- from homework remembered at the last minute to video games —- for children that compete with them their assigned bedtime. For this reason, parents have to be diligent in enforcing kids' bedtimes, regardless of how busy they may be due to balancing work and motherhood responsibilities.
Kids' bedtime at this age is important because they will need proper rest to do well in school, as well as extracurricular activities. If you have trouble getting them to bed at this age, give them incentives to do so. For example, make Saturday morning outings early rather than later. You can also reach an understanding with your children about the extra privileges granted to children who reliably go to bed as agreed -- and the consequences for those who don't. Just as they took the step of setting out their own clothes when they were 4, now they can take more and more responsibility for their own sleep health.