There will come a time when your child will choose to go to bed when tired enough. It is very hard to predict when this will be. You could experiment with letting your child initiate the bedtime routine. Some conditions you can put in place to maximise chances of success are:
- Make sure your child knows what to do to initiate bedtime. For example getting ready for the first step in the bed routine, or asking you with certain words.
- Make choosing to go to bed rewarding. When your child chooses to go to bed, show your pleasure, and provide special connection time throughout the bedtime routine (without rousing your child from feeling sleepy).
- Keep the bedtime routine short, so your child doesn’t get beyond sleepy. You might even do the first steps of the routine at the usual bedtime, and just the last step or two just before bed.
- Make sure staying up is not particularly rewarding for your child. At the usual bedtime, give your child the option of staying up or going to bed. Make it clear what staying up entails – for example this might be time where your child needs to play quietly, and not interrupt Mummy or Daddy except to initiate going to bed. Don’t provide special attention, special toys for night-time play, TV or other screens, and you might choose to limit the toys available to play with.
- Provide regular opportunities to initiate bedtime (without being pushy).
Children will be ready for this responsibility at vastly different ages. For this to work your child needs to be able to communicate when it is bedtime, be able to recognise his or her own tiredness, and have the self control to stop playing.
You’ll know if this isn’t working because your child will never initiate bedtime, or get more and more tired each day. If this it the case your child probably isn’t ready yet. You can help prepare your child by commenting on tired cues (e.g. “you’re rubbing your eyes, we often do that when we’re tired”, “Oh, big yawn, you must be tired”…), and discussing what people do when they feel tired (e.g. calming routine and sleep), or when they are tired but can’t sleep (e.g. relaxation exercises – listen to the wind, listen to your breath…).
Please add your experiences with this approach in the comments below. Please provide the age of your child when you tried it, and how long you tried it for. If it helped, please share the effects you saw. If it didn’t help, why do you think it didn’t work in your case?