How to have a calmer bedtime with your child (and the power of a routine!)

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I’m not even sure what happened when I spoke those 3 little words
One second we were playing cards
Or maybe super-heroes
Or cuddled up with a book
(there were a lot of nights that this story ended the same)


And with those 3 little words the night exploded into tears
And defiance
And big feelings.

As their feelings rose in octave
So did my frustration
And exhaustion
And desire to relax.

“Time for bed”

Taken by themselves seem so easy
One thing flowing to the next
But to my child
It seemed those words signaled something so much bigger.

As I tried to maneuver the bath time,
Teeth brushing,
Pajama time,
I received the NOs and the running away
The tears and the thrashing.

To finally get to book and cuddle time
Exhausted and ready to be done
But instead left with 2 boys
Whose cups seemed to have sprung a leak
And no amount of time
Or reasoning
Or plain demanding they stay in their beds seemed to work.

It was taking everything I could to stay peaceful
On the outside
While the inside was screaming some version
Of “Go the F* to Sleep”
With Samuel L. Jackson doing the narrating.


Something had to give
Because it seemed I was handling it
By avoiding and bedtime was getting later
Which meant mornings were getting very unpleasant.

First I reflected on me.
My feelings and emotions around bedtime.
It seemed there were so many days that I couldn’t
Wait until bedtime
To have a few minutes to myself before I did it all again tomorrow.
(but then of course I’d feel guilty for wanting that)

But so much was riding on bedtime
My downtime, my connection time with my husband
Grab a show or be a adult for an hour a day.

I was ready to disconnect
And in that energy, my boys felt the disconnection.
Because to them bedtime was a time of disconnection
And without structure
Combined with my energy

They were swirling in chaos
And fear of the unknown
And not wanting to let go of me or the day.

I was getting back exactly what I was putting out.
They were clinging to the connection
And in the feeling of being powerless to make this need known,
They became whiny, defiant with big feelings
Calling out for the one thing I was holding hostage,

With this insight, I set out to create a different feeling around bedtime
One filled with connection
And play
And joy,
And laughter
And love.

And routine.
A routine provides predictability,
A chance to master a part of the day
A relaxation into knowing what comes next.

And with that is the chance for a child to release all the pent up energy
They are holding in from the fear of the unknown,
Lack of control and autonomy
And separation from mommy and daddy.

First I breathed in a new energy
An energy of being present to my child
As we established this routine
Whatever he needed.
I let go of my time after bedtime (for now)
I made sure I went to bed early so I had the energy
At the end of the day to support him.

Then I started planting the seeds
For what was happening next
And I kept the structure the same
Each night.

I eliminated the threats and consequences
That only serve to poke holes in connection
And instead simply held the structure of first we do this then we do this.

I accepted all their feelings without judgment
Or needing to fix
But held the boundary that we value our well-being
And one of the ways we take care of our body
Is getting sleep.

Every night I followed this routine
No matter how tired I was
Or how much I wanted to say
One night doesn’t matter
But held that this is the time
And this is what we do now.

And when it felt like it was falling apart
I focused on simply staying C.A.L.M.

C. considering the circumstances. Did they miss a nap. Did we have enough rough play today.
A. accepting all feelings and needs. Without judgement. He could not like that it was bedtime. It wasn’t a threat to my “authority”. He wasn’t trying to get away with something.
L. loving myself with empathy and compassion. Give myself grace that I was tired. And a little frustrated. It was safe to feel that way, I didn’t have to take action from that space.
M. modelling empathy and compassion in caring for my child. Listen. Validate. Empathize.

As they relaxed into the predictability
Into the mastery of this part of the day
I relaxed into the gentle guide
Instead of nagging drill sergeant
And no more did those 3 little words strike
Fear and dread

And the funny thing is I now have more “me” time,
And they go to bed in their own beds.

Ready to start a bedtime routine?
First check in with your self talk at bedtime.
What are you really feeling?

Because “my child won’t go to bed”
Sounds very different from
“I just want some time to myself.  I do everything all day I just need this hour. Why is bedtime so freakin’ hard.  Why can’t they just go to bed so I can check out.”

See your thoughts create your feelings.
Those feelings that your child is picking up on
and feeling as disconnection
Shift your thoughts, shift your feelings, shift your energy
to calm and compassion and connection
To stay present with your child.

This keeps the moment all about the child
Getting out of your head and how his behavior is affecting you
Because in that frustration and resentment
lives disconnected communication
that a child perceives as stressful
and will struggle to calm.

Set an intention of how you’d like bedtime to go
(where your intention goes, your energy flows.)

“I allow bedtime to flow peacefully and calmly.  I support my child in his bedtime routine and his needs for connection are met”

Say it even before you believe it
(you only have to believe it’s possible)
Because the way the brain works
It will go in search of making this true
and your child will feel the deep connection

Bedtime might not go exactly as you thought it should
but by staying present and supporting your child
as he needs, staying focused on him
it will likely go much more joyful and peaceful for everyone.

Then check out the guest blog from my friend Missy Yandow @ for setting a peaceful bedtime routine that peacefully sticks!

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Irene is a certified parenting coach who is passionate about creating peace in parenting and opening parents hearts to what is possible in their family. She works with clients 1-1 and offers support through her digital course, The Peaceful Parent Playbook. She is host of the private Facebook Community, The Moms Hive. She is inspired to help moms let go of the doing that leads to the overwhelm and more “bee-ing” in peace, joy and a love for parenting.

Irene McKennaComment