How Do I Get My Child to Go to Bed (And Stay There)?

It's time to build a better bedtime routine—true to your child's Type.

When bedtime feels exhausting, it’s time to make a change.

Bedtime happens every night, so it seems like it should be easy. But for so many families, that’s not the case! If prolonged bedtime routines and night waking are wearing you down, know that you’re not the only one.

In this episode, Carol and Anne share bedtime needs for all 4 Types of children. They’ll help you shorten bedtime and reconsider needs during the night. Let’s get your family on the path to better sleep!

This week’s Parenting Practice

Assess your bedtime routine. Look at all the areas that affect bedtime: your child’s bedroom, their Energy Type, and how can you support them in having a supportive routine. When you listen to this episode, what stands out to you? What thoughts come to mind? Between these tips and your intuition, you can help your child stay in bed so you’ll all be more rested as a family.

Transcript of podcast episode

Anne: We should all know how bedtime works, but every night it’s like, “Wait, what do we do?”

Carol: Welcome to “The Child Whisperer” podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the bestselling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: Part of parenting is bedtime. Every night, bedtime happens, and there are so many funny comedian jokes about like, bedtime is this big giant thing. And it’s like, bedtime happens every night. Why don’t we just know what to do?

Carol: Jim Gaffigan has a hilarious one about being… It’s like a hostage situation but in reverse. Your children have you held hostage.

Anne: Just stay in there.

Carol: Just stay in there. I’ll give you anything you want.

Anne: Then once they’re all down, one wakes up and then you’ve got to start all over again. No. We get so many questions about bedtime like, “How can I help this…”

Carol: You think people don’t want to go to bed. You get tired.

Anne: Right. I know parents certainly do. Well, actually, it’s like once my kids are in bed, then I get this burst of energy and I can stay up all night long.

Carol: That’s right, all by yourself.

Anne: Then I’m kicking myself in the morning, “Why didn’t I go to bed earlier?” So we’re going to talk a little bit about bedtime and specifically, once the child is in bed, how do you keep them there, because there’s a lot of, “Okay. I got them down but they’re getting up again,” or just this really prolonged bedtime routines. So we want to support you with that today. First of all, I want to point out that you could be the one making it harder than it needs to be.

Carol: Well, that’s pretty much the case in all scenarios. That’s why I wrote “The Child Whisperer” because that’s pretty true. Be careful when you start bedtime routines, be very selective in what you include in their routine. Tanner’s routine with your Type 3 little guy is swoop him up and…

Anne: Yes. My Type 3 husband…

Carol: …put him in bed and he’s done.

Anne: Yeah, he goes to bed so good.

Carol: It’s very, very quick.

Anne: My husband, he’s a Type 3. He’s a bedtime wizard. He can get up there and he’s done with bedtime in 15 minutes, and I’m like an hour and a half. I’m like, “How do you do this?” He’s giving me coaching tips. I will share those with you today.

So I want to share a success story though, from someone who said, “Bedtime has always been stressful for me for multiple reasons. For my Type 2 son, he needed me to be there for a long time to help him fall asleep, cuddling him, holding his hand, rubbing his back. Before I read ‘The Child Whisperer,’ I thought I needed to do the same thing for my Type 1 daughter, and bedtime took forever. I would rub her back for an hour, sometimes two.”

Carol: What?

Anne: I could never do that, first of all. Like, no.

Carol: Oh, no. Me neither. I would be like, “Fine. Stay up. Fall asleep whenever you fall asleep.”

Anne: If I have to rub a back versus them screaming for an hour, I would choose the latter.

Carol: I don’t know. I think I’d just throw hands up and say, “Apparently, you’ll just fall on the floor and go to sleep at some point.”

Anne: Okay. “So even after I started reading “The Child Whisperer,” I continued this trend not realizing that I was the one making bedtime worse. About three weeks ago, I changed my approach. I let her pick out her babies, turn on her diffuser. She picks the light color.” I love that part. “Tuck her in, kiss her goodnight, and walk out. She falls asleep within five minutes every single time. She’s never cried for me not being there like I feared she would. Why didn’t I do this sooner? This has been life-changing.” And seriously, when you get bedtime, it is life-changing because that’s an hour or two that she can use in that quiet time and it’s not her trying to get her daughter to sleep.

Carol: Our big success story was your brother, my Type 4 son, he just approached it very logically from a very young age. He was tired and he knew if you’re tired you go to bed. He wouldn’t wait for me to go do the bedtime routine. He preferred putting himself to bed by himself.

Anne: How old was he when he started that?

Carol: Seven, eight. He preferred putting himself to bed, privately, being by himself. He didn’t want you in there. You might go in and just say goodnight then once he was in bed, but he didn’t want the interaction. And it became this solitary process for him, which I think is…

Anne: Maybe that’s what will happen with my youngest Type 3 son.

Carol: You could start that pretty early with a Type 4 child. It’s just, maybe you’re stressing them out because they don’t want to be talking to you. They really are tired and they just want quiet.

Anne: They need that solitude.

Carol: Mm-hmm. You could even at three, four, five years old employ them…

Anne: Give them the option.

Carol: …to, “It’s time for you to go get ready for bed and do your bedtime routine. I’ll come in and just say goodnight when you’re in bed,” and it’s quick because you’re putting too much into it.

Anne: Give them that authority, the autonomy, that choice.

Carol: Yeah. Type 4s need time by themselves. I would think when you’re getting ready for bed, that would be a lovely time to be by yourself.

Anne: That’s a great tip. What about for a Type 3? What are the tendencies around bedtime?

Carol: You’ve got to catch them when they’re tired. If you let them burn through that tired phase, they get a second wind.

Anne: I noticed that especially with my Type 3 as a toddler.

Carol: They’ll hit the pillow hard. They’ll hit it hard, boy, and you’ve got to go with it and you’ve got to stop what you’re doing and say, “Okay. We’re going to bed right now. Boom.” Because if you get past that, they’ll get going again. They’ll get wound up again, and then it’s another few hours. And if you’re really strict on time, you think, “Well, it’s too early,” well, I don’t know. Maybe they need a longer sleep tonight. Maybe 6:00 p.m. isn’t for that Type 3. They’re tired.

Anne: When they’re showing that sign.

Carol: They’re going to bed.

Anne: Yeah. That’s a good idea.

Carol: So you’ve got to catch it in that moment of tiredness. I’m the same way still. I’ll be tired at 9:00, 9:30 because if I got up at 6:00, and if I move past that, I’ll be up till midnight. And I’m like, “What did I just do? I missed my window of tired opportunity and I didn’t take it.”

Anne: So with Type 2, like this story we shared, the Type 2 son needed…

Carol: A little more comforting, connecting.

Anne: …me there for a longer time to fall asleep. Now, my Type 2 son, we don’t spend a lot of time cuddling or connecting in bed, but we do have a very cozy space for him, and we’ve spoken to this in other podcasts.

Carol: I’m going to talk about that in The Child Whisperer book also.

Anne: Yeah, definitely. So we’ve got his stuffed animals, a cozy room, his whole setup with his water bottle so he knows it’s familiar, and then we’ll do a story or sing a song and say goodnight. But my husband when he leaves the room, he kind of lays down the law, “What happens if you call for me? What happens if you get out of bed? What happens if this?”

Carol: And he follows through, correct?

Anne: Yeah.

Carol: The kids know he means it.

Anne: Yeah. And the consequences just, we’ll shut the door. They like to keep their doors open a bit so there can be a little bit of light. And my little two-year-old will say, “Shut the door. Shut the door,” so he knows the rules. He’s familiar, and same thing with Katie. And Katie knows she can push me a little bit more, “But, Mom, don’t leave me. Or tell me another story,” or she’ll start to cry. We’ve talked about this on other podcasts as well. She’ll bring up what she’s scared about. And I just have to keep moving forward. “Nope, nope. You’re good,” because I know at that point it’s a distracting technique, and so they’re just staying in bed.

Carol: I think when parents are the most successful in their children choosing to stay in bed, they’ve been really clear on the consequences and they reinforce them 100%. There’s no variable there, so the children just know, “What do I want? I want my door open. Okay. I’m going to choose everything I’ve agreed to here.” And so that follow-through that you show your children that you will follow through and then they’ll make choices that support preventing those consequences.

Where, again, my Type 1 daughter has inconsistent follow-through a lot of times, bur her Type 4 husband has impeccable follow-through. So he deals with less fallout. The children mind him more quickly because of his follow-through, where they get away with more with their Type 1 mom. And she knows that’s her tendency, so she has to work on it. And he’s a role model for her.

Anne: Right. And that’s the same in my scenario. And I think in that case, just make your follow-through be very simple. We don’t have 10 different rules around bedtime. It’s one thing and the kids know it because we’ve reinforced it time and time again.

Carol: Let’s keep this conversation going in. But first, we’ve got a special message for our listeners.

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Carol: A lot of it is if bedtime is stressful, children don’t look forward to bedtime because it’s a big stressful moment. And if you’re not giving the appropriate… You’ve got so much going on. There’s just a lot of movement in your home. There’s media running. Light can affect children. I listen to Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof” podcast. He talks a lot about the influence of blue light from technology, screens, television, the light in your home, that you’ve got to create sort of that winding down. People went to bed when it got dark in the days of non-technology and no electricity.

Anne: You have to create an atmosphere.

Carol: You create that supportive environment that says bedtime is a very pleasant experience we look forward to. So what’s going on leading up to it that all of a sudden it’s bedtime and then we’re supposed to shift into going to bed, but our brains are all stimulated. What did they eat? Some kids eat later at night. Maybe they do need… They could be what’s called a night eater. They do need a snack at night. It’s just their pattern. Other kids will use it for distraction.

You found Katie actually does better if she eats something even after dinner and has a snack. You’ll even tell her, “Go get your snack.” That’s almost a part of her bedtime routine because she does benefit from that. And then she’s not… You don’t have to question, “She’s saying she’s hungry. That’s just a way to try and get out of bed.”

Anne: I’ve created parameters around that, too. If we’re already jumping binge, she’s like, “But wait. I need my snack.” “No. You have to get it before you come upstairs.”

Carol: She had to choose to take care of that.

Anne: Yeah. And I created this very clear outline and I put it in the bathroom. “These are the steps for bedtime,” almost for me more than the kids so I can be consistent of we wash, we brush, we go potty, we get our jammies on, we do a story. We can move through this quickly.

And let’s go to Type 1 and just talk about their tendencies. In the story that I shared, what was making bedtime not work was when the mom was spending a lot of time in the bed with her. And I think because the Type 1s are social, she was probably like, “Okay. I’m going to engage with my mom while she’s here.” But her mom leaving the room helped the child go to bed.

Carol: Yeah. She actually exhibited then, “I’m just going to connect and disconnect, then I’m fine.”

Anne: And I love that this scenario… She gave her that freedom to get her babies that she would sleep with, turn on her diffuser. It sounds like they have a light that changes colors so she could turn which color she wanted. So there was an element of fun and options, which appeals to the Type 1, and then she just was able to go to bed.

Carol: She had her do them all. She didn’t do them for her. I think it’s really important for all Types children, they’re responsible for getting themselves to bed, and you’re supporting them, rather than you’re responsible for getting them to bed.

Anne: That’s a really good distinction.

Carol: By even around age two, you can start to employ your child in some responsible bedtime choices. Put on your onesie. You see what I’m saying? They can be doing things?

Anne: Or pick your jammies out. Get your diaper ready or go brush your teeth. Yeah, definitely.

Carol: So you train them, you’re in charge of your bedtime.

Anne: Because eventually, they’re going to be in charge of…

Carol: And you’re in charge of keeping yourself in bed.

Anne: …putting themself to bed.

Carol: Right.

Anne: And I’ve always gone to bed later than I wanted to be and I’m like, “What? Didn’t I learn?”

Carol: Somehow, I gave you so much freedom that you guys never went to bed.

Anne: That’s right.

Carol: All the Tuttle children all stay up really late. I gave you all kinds of freedom though to say, “Hey. You want sleep? You better go to bed now.” But we’re talking about toddlers and that are too young…

Anne: No. I like that advice, helping them…

Carol: …for that rationale. But again, you’re training them to say, “It’s your responsibility to maintain your health. Sleeping is a part of that.”

Anne: Yeah. And a couple more little tips. I have an alarm that goes off on my phone at 7:00 that triggers bedtime. And it goes off, my kids know, okay, we’re approaching that time, whether or not it happens exactly at that time will vary.

Carol: It’s a bedtime alarm meaning we’re starting this process.

Anne: Yes. You guys know what time it is. We’re winding down.

Carol: That’s a good idea. Is it the same time every night?

Anne: Yeah. It’s just for 7:00.

Carol: Yeah. It went off at our house Sunday. You were still there and you said something.

Anne: We were still there and I said, “Time for bed.”

Carol: They were all looking around for their jammies. You’ve trained them well.

Anne: The one-year-old, the littlest guy, he goes to bed so easy, and it’s right at 7:00 pretty much every night.

Carol: He’s a 3/1.

Anne: And even when he was a baby, I would be like, “Oh, let’s snuggle,” and he’s just like jerking his head back like, “I’m ready to get to bed.” Another tip I would give is you probably have that consistent bedtime start time. I think it would benefit any family to have a consistent bedtime, but I would say don’t start bedtime until you’re ready to engage in the process, and that’s where I’ve found it will prolong.

Because I’m like, “Okay. Let’s go to bed. I’m ready for you guys to go to bed. The day has come to an end.” But then I’m not ready to engage myself with my kids and move them through the process, then an hour and a half later, they’re finally in bed and I’m like, “What took so long?” But if we’re just going to play for another hour until I’m ready to do that, then it can happen more quickly.

Carol: Yeah. That just brought to mind for me if the underlying feeling your children are picking up from you is, “I’m really annoyed by all of you and I’m tired of you.”

Anne: You’ve got to go to bed. I’m just done with you.

Carol: “I’m really sick of you so you’ve got to get to bed because I’m really done with you.” So if there’s just this…the motive is that your children feel that and they’ll respond unfavorably because they don’t want to feel that being they’re a problem. So you’ve got to shift your mood and just say… I would set intentions, too. I would speak it and say, “I’m grateful…”

Anne: Bedtime is easy.

Carol: “…that bedtime is easy and grateful that all my children…”

Anne: I’ve done that. I have. I’m like, “Bedtime is…”

Carol: I’ve rescripted.

Anne: “…an enjoyable process for all of us.”

Carol: I do figure-eights between my children and their bed. I imagine angels surrounding their beds, soothing them to sleep. No. I’m not kidding.

Anne: Yeah. No. I’ve done all that.

Carol: I do all that stuff because I’m like, “Let this be a delightful positive experience that they’re drawn to.” Because I don’t remember having challenging bedtime experiences with you, so maybe I started this years ago where I’m like, “I’m going to draw on these forces to support this experience that it’s not an issue in our family, that we went to bed.” And I like the angel tactic that my children stay in bed because it’s such a lovely wonderful setting, they feel soothed and comforted. So I imagine them surrounded by angels that are stroking their head. I honestly do this and I even do it with myself. I call in angels to help me go to sleep.

Anne: Sounds cozy.

Carol: It’s wonderful.

Anne: Going back to just something you mentioned, it triggered a thought, that starts there. If your kids’ rooms aren’t in a place where they feel really excited to be… Like the story here said she’s got her babies, her diffuser, a night light. That Type 1 child is all excited about all of that to support her and in some cozy environment to sleep. Is their bed not comfortable? Are their sheets scratchy?

Carol: Is it too messy?

Anne: Do they have a messy bed? Your parenting practice is to assess your bedtime and look at all the areas that affect bedtime, their bedroom, their Type, and how can you support them in having a supportive bedtime routine so they can stay in bed and you’ll all be more rested and happy family as a result.

Carol: Thanks for listening. For more support, go to where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice e-mail and find a transcription and audio of “The Child Whisperer” podcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving your review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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