Among the parents I coach, I find that that one near-universal issue arises at some point in the coaching process: How do we take the pain out of bedtime? Here are some real solutions to this often-frustrating everyday issue.
Set up a family meeting. Using the same approach that you would with a respected adult, ask your child if she will be available at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss an important issue, the same process you would use with a respected colleague. Hold a family meeting to share your concerns in a non-judgmental way. This gives the child a sense of being respected and also infuses a feeling of importance into a troubling issue. I recommend this approach for any topic that needs discussion in your family life.

Use the family meeting to lay out the issue of bedtime squabbles as objectively as you can. You might say something like, “I have noticed that we are having trouble settling down without an argument at bedtime. I know that when this happens, I get upset, and I imagine that you do, too. I would like to see us have a peaceful bedtime instead.

Use Present Moment Parenting, featuring The Nurtured Heart Approach for bedtime experience management. Say, “We need rules. What should the rules be, Kids?” Children know what the rules are, and the ones they offer will typically be more stringent than yours. Use the child's rules religiously whenever practical, as this creates buy-in, which strengthens the likelihood that the rules will be followed.
If a rule is broken, there is an immediate, non-negotiable break. A gentle, unemotional “Broke a rule. Take a break,” is all that is needed. The break should take place in the bed, since that is where the child needs to be, and should last 30 seconds. No energy (no talking, no negotiating, no engagement of any sort) should be directed to the child. The break starts when the child is calm. He can make it start, and make it end! He can exert appropriate power!
For steps that are completed with cooperation, use heartfelt appreciation to show that you are noticing and valuing the child’s actions. You might say, “I see that you have your teeth brushed and are headed for your room. Thank you so much for following our plan, Kristi. Every time you do this stuff, I feel like you are making this house such a wonderful place to live!” Using the formula “When you … I feel … because …” for this feedback makes remembering what to say much easier.
Set a definite bedtime. Do not consider this optional. It is very good modeling for your children. They need to know that time to oneself or as a couple is vital to healthy adult living, and that it also assures that mom and dad will be in a much better mood tomorrow.

Include any special rituals in the bedtime routine that the children deem important, and that are acceptable to you, such as: wash your face and brush your teeth, take a drink of water, put on p.j.s, say goodnight to the fish, read with mom or dad, settle in for sleep. Indicate that you are as bought in to the ritual as is the child; be sure to remind her to say goodnight to the fish if she forgets. Rituals provide a sense of continuity and comfort, which is vitally important to raising healthy kids. Reading together is my favorite bedtime ritual, as it points out that you value reading and learning, it offers a great opportunity for snuggling, and most important, it truly allows the child to feel your slowed-down, caring energy.
Requests for extending the reading time are greeted with “It makes me so proud to see that you love to read this much, Honey, but tomorrow is another day, and you can read during any free time you have. Now I need to see the light out. Good night.”
Then leave the room and consider the day with children completed.

You’ll want to rehearse bedtime on Saturday afternoon, when you are all home. Everyone gets their pajamas on, uses the bathroom, brushes teeth, finds a book, reads, says prayers, says goodnight and turns off the light. This builds a definite map in the child’s brain for what bedtime is supposed to look like, which gives the child a huge head start on complying when it’s the real thing. Be sure to give heartfelt appreciation for the cooperation during the practice.

Here’s to a much more peaceful bedtime for everyone!

Tina Feigal is a former school psychologist and parent coach. She offers coaching over the phone to parents all over the U.S. and Canada. Visit for more information.

Author's Bio: 

Tina is the founder of the Center for the Challenging Child, LLC, where she shares highly successful techniques to transform challenging behavior in children of all ages. Her book, The Pocket Parent Coach: Your Two-Week Guide to a Dramatically Improved Life with Your Intense Child which includes the CD, “60 Minutes with Parent Coach Tina Feigal” has earned five-star reviews on Tina has been featured as NBC affiliate KARE 11 TV’s resident parent coach in Minneapolis/St. Paul. She has also been featured on WCCO TV and WCCO radio in the Twin Cities, along with FM107 radio. Tina has appeared on Sioux Falls, SD’s KELO TV and on Twin Cities metro cable TV stations. She speaks regularly for a wide variety of conferences, school, community education, church, and service organizations, including Prevent Child Abuse America, Miracle Distribution Center, MN School Counselors’ Association, and MN Association for Children’s Mental Health. She also schedules independent trainings which are open to the public throughout the U.S. Tina is a faculty member at Adler Graduate School in Richfield, MN, where she trains future parent coaches.