How to keep cool in a bedtime battle with your child

You don’t decide when I go to bed.

Um, excuse me?

Did my four year old just dare to suggest that I’m not the law in this house?

I’m not going to bed. You can’t make me go to bed.

Oh. Right. It’s like that. 

And I don’t want to go to bed.

That’s the two year old chiming in too. Nice work, big brother.

So now we’ve got a fun bedtime ahead of us – and honestly, such a big part of me wants to yell.

To lay down a few, “How dare yous?” and show the cheeky pair that actually mommy DOES decide when you go to bed.

So there.

And it can be a battle not to give in to that desire – but I’m hanging in there because I’ve learned that yelling at bedtime just makes everything worse.

Note: If your bedtimes are tough because your child can’t fall asleep alone, you should read this >>

Isn’t bedtime resistance awesome?

Just exactly what you need at the end of another long day when all you really, really want is to collapse on the sofa.

But no. Not yet anyway – because you’ve got to deal with a kid who suddenly has all the energy of a brand new puppy mixed with an olympic distance runner.

How? Who knows. You probably already have a solid bedtime routine – check this post out if you’re not sure – so it’s all about taming the bedtime resistance.

What ELSE do you need to do so that your child won’t bounce on the bed while shouting NO and laughing at you when you try to bring some normal back?

The first thing you need to do is make a decision to stay calm.

how to keep calm at bedtime

Staying calm is a bedtime superpower

I know, it’s easier said than done when you’ve had enough of parenting for today and yet you’re facing the biggest challenges to your authority.

It’s like they know we’re not at full strength in the evenings.

But if you give in and yell at your kids one of two things will happen.

1#  A long, drawn out battle of wills where both of you feel upset, angry and frustrated.

2#  A crying child who needs a lot of reassurance.

Neither of those scenarios includes a child who is calm.

Your child needs to be calm in order to fall asleep.

For them to be calm, you also must be calm even though it feels impossible with the behaviour they’re throwing your way.

Luckily, there is something you can do and it has to do with golf.

How to keep calm at bedtime

Maybe that sounds like I’m making light of your struggles – but I’m right there with you.

There are nights when I’m prickling with suppressed anger at what my kids are up to. 

They don’t act like this during the day – why now when I’m already stretched super thin on patience?

That’s when I know I need to back off from the situation. Not physically – well, maybe it depends how tough things are – but in my head.

If you can get some mental distance from the behaviour it’s a lot easier to deal with in a calm rational way.

So start by noticing that emotional response. And taking a deep breath.

And now imagine you’re a golfer out there on the course. You might have to bear with me a little here but it’ll be worth it. 

You’ve got your favourite club in your hand and the ball is on the tee.

Related: Teach your child patience with this simple daily habit

The favourite golf club is your bedtime routine

I guess if we extend the analogy then your kid is the ball but let’s not think too much about that.

Usually, your favourite club will whack that ball a good long way towards the hole (your child being in bed, asleep).

Sometimes you use that same familiar club and for some reason, the ball goes someplace else. 

So you have a child who’s bouncing around and thinking for some crazy reason that they are now in charge.

That’s when you need to engage your golfer brain.

The golfer in you can see that the favourite club didn’t do its job this time.

She knows she needs to assess the situation, see where the ball is now and what obstacles there are between her and the hole.

Try a different club (strategy)

It would be handy if I knew all the names of the golf clubs that golfers carry around with them. But I don’t.

So let’s say that our golfer decides she’s in big trouble and she needs to get out her biggest, heaviest club.

This is the strategy that you know works the best for getting your kid to calm down.

A real heavy-hitter.

This strategy’s one of my favourites so let’s say you try this one:

Offer small choices

Instead of telling your child to, “Stop doing that!” – because you know they probably won’t and you’ll get more frustrated – give them a teeny tiny choice of two things.

This is because you need your child to listen to you and engage with what you’re saying and when they’re acting up that’s probably not happening.

Often a small choice will get your child to engage with you when it seems they’re totally committed to doing absolutely nothing you ask of them.

Which pajamas do you want tonight? The blue ones or the purple ones?

Do you want teddy or the dinosaur in bed tonight?

Will you do the toothpaste or will I?

Are you going to climb up into bed or will I lift you?

Do you want to do your own covers or will I tuck you in?

All these little choices give your child a tiny crumb of control over what’s happening. 

The rest of the power is yours – even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. If they’re in their room, wearing their pajamas and brushing their teeth, you’re winning.

So this particular club may help imaginary golfer you to get the compliance and the calm that you need.

Offering a small choice might be exactly what you needed to do. Then if that works, move on the the next small choice until you’re asking which side they want teddy tucked in on.

But what if it’s not working that well – because neither of us knows what’s gonna work?

Keep on golfing.

how to cope with bedtime battles

It gets harder (and more important) to stay calm

You’ve tried your bedtime routine and you’ve tried your top bedtime behaviour strategy. (It might not be small choices at all. Different strategies for different kids.)

So now you’re the golfer who’s taken a few shots but she’s still nowhere near that hole.

Ugh. So annoying. When will it be over?

When will she be able to move onto the next hole – or head to the kitchen to fix a drink? 

This is the time to remember that you’re treating this bedtime as a game.

Maybe you prefer tennis? Sometimes you win in two sets. That’s awesome.

BOOM! You’re on fire today.

Other times you play a five setter. There’s frustration, tiredness, feelings that you’re never going to be done here.

It’s still great when you win though.

So instead of giving in to your frustrations, you think which other strategies might help move the needle.

Distract your child

This is another great strategy for kids who don’t want to be in bed.

Clearly, we’re not talking about noisy, light up, musical toys – we’re talking abut something your child can have in bed to focus on and comfort them.

And if they’re showing no interest in their regular bedtime buddy right now, then it’s time to get involved yourself. Pick up their bedtime toy and play with it.

Ask your child what teddy likes to do at bedtime? Does teddy like stories or does she like an adventure? If you don’t get an answer, start playing in a way you’ve seen your child play before.

Do they like dinosaurs or pirates or trips to the moon? Set off on a little adventure with their bedtime toy – but don’t leave the bed. There’s a good chance that if you keep going for a few minutes your child will join in.

Then when you’ve got that shred of engagement you need to stick around a little longer – if you rush out of the room now they’ll probably start the crazy stuff again.

So play together for a few minutes and then yawn, remember something you have to do and say goodnight.

But promise to pop back and see how the adventure’s going in a few minutes. 

Then you’re free.

What if neither strategy is working to get your child to calm down?

If you’re in a five-setter – I know, I’m mixing the tennis and golf analogies now – and it feels like nothing is working despite your best cool, calm, sportsman-like efforts, you could be pretty on edge right now.

What to do next? Which club / strategy? Do you even know the right strategies?

This is where your calm is going to get you through.

Wish your child could fall asleep without you? Read this >>

Be persistent

Well, there isn’t much else you can do except stomp off and leave your child to behave any way they like.

So stick with it. Go back to the first strategy you tried. Try it again. 

Take a five minute break and praise any good thing you can when you return,

Well done for staying in bed.

I like how nicely you were speaking to your sister.

Try your choices strategy again, or your distraction strategy.

You might even want to ask your child what they want to do with you tomorrow to try and get them fixed on that – something that they’ll get AFTER they sleep.

Try a strategy, assess how effective it was. Leave. Return.

Or don’t return. That might be the right call.

How it helps to keep calm at bedtime

The golfer plan might not take away your bedtime battles.

But it give you a plan – a structure to cling to when you feel like nothing is helping.

And it helps you stay calm – and calm matters so much if you want to avoid the type of bedtime where you’re yelling your way through and sure, your kid goes to sleep but you feel like a horrible parent.

Who wants that?

But what about my grumpy four year old?

I’d love to tell you that he never resists bedtime any more – but that wouldn’t be true.

He never used to. For the longest time he was a true superstar of the bedtime routine.

Now, suddenly, we’re in a season where we have to work a little for our evening peace again.

And I have to work to keep calm at bedtime.

Do I love that? Nope.

Do I miss the easy days. Absolutely.

Does it stress me out? Usually not.

There are plenty of nights when I’m the golfer we just talked about.

Sure, I wish it was super simple like it was before  – and I bet you do too – but this is a season and planning on keeping calm and dealing with it helps me so much.

I hope it helps you too.

Further reading

Create a great bedtime routine + free printables >>

Want to teach your child to obey? Read this >>

Or try this post about calming your toddler’s bedtimes.