How we get our kids to bed in fifteen minutes each night (and keep them there!)

This is part of a series on getting kids to bed at night and keeping them in their rooms. To read the first part of the article, please click here. Dawn is a Realtor and mom. Here is how she and husband Tom get their kids to bed in fifteen minutes (or less!) each night and keep them there!
By the end of the day no one has energy for bedtime battles. Four moms share their best bedtime routine tips to get kids to bed quickly & to keep toddlers and older kids IN THEIR BED throughout the night!
We have learned a lot over the past seven years in regards to bedtime routines. Mostly that what we allow is what will happen at bedtime. Since we’ve tightened up our expectations bedtime has become a breeze and our kids go to bed HAPPY each night.
I also want you to know that I firmly believe that kids can go from co-sleeping to sleeping on their own very smoothly. You can read more about how we transition our kids from our bed to their’s here.
What is the age range of your children?

We have four children ages 2-7. Our two older are girls ages 7 and 5 and our two youngest are boys ages 3 1/2 and 2.

How long does it take to put your kids to bed at night?

Fifteen minutes TOPS. We’ve intentionally kept our bedtime routine very streamlined because our schedule can be unpredictable at times. We also wanted it to be simple for sitters or relatives to do if they happen to be putting the kids to bed at night.

What does your bedtime routine consist of/look like on a regular night?

We put our kids to bed at 7:00 each night, so around 6:45 we ask the kids to go potty and brush their teeth. While they are doing that I change our youngest’s diaper and make him a bottle. When they are done in the bathroom they know to head straight to their room to put on pajamas and get into bed. If my husband is home he keeps everyone on track and prevents dilly-dallying.

Once they are in bed, we say a quick blessing over them and reaffirm something that they did well that day or that we love about their character. It might be something like “I loved hearing you sing to the radio on the way home from school today, you have such a great voice. Bless you that you sleep well and have sweet dreams.” or “I was so proud of you for telling the truth, it’s not always easy but you did the right thing, blessings that you will always be known to be trustworthy.”

This seems to help give them something positive to think about as they settle in for the night.

We also have a noise maker that plays white noise that we turn on each night and leave on all night. We have a small house so my husband and I feel that we don’t have to tip toe around when this is on. We also like that when we travel we bring it with and it is a good sleep cue for the kids no matter where we are. (This is the one that we have, under $20 from Amazon)

What does it look like if you get home late?

Pretty much the same. When we are driving in the driveway my husband will say “as soon as we get inside we’re going potty and brushing our teeth” and now the kids will often beat him to it and say “Daddy are you going to say…” or “We know, we know, as soon as we get inside we’re going potty and brushing our teeth.” 

We joke about it, but it is nice that they always know what to expect.

Do you have children that share a room? Does that work for your family? 

Actually all of our kids are in one room right now simply because our home only has two bedrooms…but they seem to love it. They actually sleep better now than they ever did when they were in their own rooms. I think it is comforting knowing that there are others in the room if they wake up at night. 

I know what you’re thinking: But don’t they keep each other up? In the past, if there has been a problem with them talking after they are put to bed we put a baby monitor in their room so that we could respond at the first peep. That was only necessary for one or two nights and then they knew that it wasn’t going to happen anymore.

Down the road we will remodel and plan to have a girl bedroom and boy bedroom, but for now, this has worked surprisingly well. 

 What excuses do your children use to stay up later or to get out of bed?

“I’m thirsty” or “my tummy hurts”. We finally had to say that if you’re thirsty you needed to ask for a drink before bedtime. Kids are quick learners, they now know to drink up ahead of time or to not even bother asking. And when they say that their tummy hurts or that they don’t feel well we just say that sleep is the best solution for that.

“I’m not tired”. Once in awhile our 3 1/2 year old will nap late and doesn’t seem tired at bedtime. However, since they all share a room, it isn’t really an option to have him go to bed later. But here is what surprises me: I’ll often go to check on him these nights, and I may here him softly singing or talking to himself. He hasn’t fallen asleep yet but is perfectly capable of quietly occupying himself in his bed until he does drift off.

Similarly, I would often hear our two year old talking to himself before he nodded off. I’ve read that kids NEED time before they fall asleep for their brain to begin to sort the day’s events. It shouldn’t be expected (or desired) that they “crash” at night, it is OK to put them to bed before they’re displaying signs of being tired.

How do you respond if your child gets up after you have put them to bed?

Honestly, they know they have to deal with daddy if they get up. I stay home with the kids about 80% of the week, by bedtime, my emotional energy is about gone. Fortunately, my husband has a high value for our time together so he doesn’t put up with any excuses, he just takes them straight back to bed. 

Sometimes in the spring and fall Tom will help my family with farming and he won’t be home for bedtime for quite a few nights in a row. The kids often think that this is a free pass for them to get up. The worst was when our third was two. He was still in a crib but he would get out again and again (even if I spanked him!). So I just sat outside his door and put him right back in his crib as soon as he got up. One night I did it fifteen times. The next night was three and after that he was done.

CONSISTENCY IS KING dear friend! Like I said, I know what it is like to have zero energy for bedtime battles, but committing a few nights to a new routine will pay off!

What do you do if one of your children wakes up in the middle of the night and would like to sleep in your room or bed?

We bring them back to their bed. Oh man, it is not always easy to get out of a warm bed in the middle of the night (especially if they’ve gotten you at the dead bottom of a sleep cycle). But like I said before, consistency is everything and our kids rarely come into our room at night anymore.

If my kids are not currently used to going to bed when they are asked and get up frequently, or if they are used to me rocking them or laying with them to go to sleep, what would be your best advice?

I think the Super Nanny made this approach mainstream, and I’ve heard it work for many families, where you place the child in their bed and then move a little further away each night until you’re in the hallway. If they wake during the night you simply bring them back to their bed without saying anything…no arguing, reasoning or otherwise, just straight back to bed. 

I’m always surprised how quickly kids pick up new routines…it doesn’t mean they won’t test the new boundaries, but we all know that they need and want these boundaries to feel safe and secure and to know that we have things under control. Again, not always easy for us, especially if we don’t feel like we have things under control, but stick with it!! :)

What if my child is scared to sleep in their own room at night?

Sometimes this throws me for a loop because I know what they are feeling is very real. So, I always ask myself: “Well do they have something to be afraid of?” Nope. They are completely safe in their bedroom at night. So I try to reassure them that they are safe and that we are not far away if they need us. I also tell them that we check on them during the night for extra security.

Have you had concerns that seemed out of your child’s control (like nightmares, wetting the bed at an older age, working themselves up to the point of throwing up)? How did you handle these?

Our youngest would work himself up to the point of throwing up. Once we transitioned him to his own crib, once in awhile there would be times that he would not go to sleep on his own and he would cry. At this stage (around the two year mark) we always let them cry for a few minutes before we go into the room to comfort them. In that time frame he would sometimes work himself up to the point of throwing up (he has a sensitive stomach anyway, so he doesn’t have to get too worked up for this to happen).

So, while I don’t like to have to clean up throw-up, we let him do it so that he would know that unfortunately, even throwing up when you aren’t sick isn’t rewarded with coming out of your bed. He’s done it twice and that has been the end of it.

Our oldest also had a short stretch of night terrors. These are horrifying! They usually happened between 9:00 and 10:00 at night (again with them going to bed at 7:00, so she had been asleep for 2-3 hours). We would hear her crying uncontrollably from her room and enter to find her awake, but not really awake with the most terrified expression on her face. Once she was settled back down I would sit outside of her door until she fell back asleep.

Fortunately, this was a short season for her, but if it is a recurring problem for your child, or someone else that you know, they do make this device that goes under the child’s mattress. It senses their sleep patterns and vibrates when it is anticipating that they are switching sleep cycles. This is when most night terrors occur and it is proven to be 90% effective (although not cheap!)

What has been the most difficult age for your children in regards to bedtime?

For us it seems to be around the two year mark where you know they understand what you’re saying, but don’t always listen. This makes consistency more important than ever!

What do you do when your kids are sick?

We try to keep them on their regular sleeping routine as much as possible. It seems that they don’t even know to ask for special accommodations when they are sick because they are rarely offered. The only exceptions we make are if they have a high fever or are nauseous, then we let them sleep on our floor so that we can keep an eye on them. The drawback to this is that they don’t seem to get as good of sleep as if they were in their own bed, which we all know is what they need when they aren’t feeling well.

What age do you think is best to transition kids from a crib to toddler bed?

We have always kept our kids in their crib until they were around three. Even though they could crawl out, they seemed to prefer the cozy environment to that of a toddler bed and it was more work for them to get up at night.

When we did transition them, we had them go straight to twin beds so now they all have beds they can sleep in until they graduate.

How do your kids know when they can get up in the morning?

We have an alarm clock in their room with the minutes covered up. They all know that there needs to be a “6” or “7” on the clock for them to get up. Of course this also took some consistency and intentionality in the beginning, but now it is just a normal part of their day.

I know I’ve said this a few times: but I TOTALLY get not having energy at the end of the day to implement new routines, but I do think it is a worthy pursuit. My best encouragement would be to decide what you want bedtime to look like, inform your kids that you are going to be starting something new, and commit to 110% consistency that first week.
Best wishes and please feel free to ask questions in the comments! :)
Next: Read about Allison’s bedtime routines –>
-or- Return to the bedtime tips article main page –>