On his door, each of my kids has a paper chart and an action figure or toy attached to it with poster tack. When one of the kids stays in bed after lights-out, he gets to move his toy one space on the chart the next morning. When he gets to the end, the family gets to go to the movies or bowling! We started with five spaces for our 3-year-old and ten spaces for our 5-year-old, but every time one of them earns the prize, we add two spaces to his chart. We've also used this system for other challenges, like eating their veggies -- which I never have to ask them to do anymore!
The bedtime trick I used with my daughter, then age 5, was deceptively simple: I told her that she could stay awake if she wanted to, but she had to stay in bed. She thought she was getting away with something! Every night she told me, "Oh Mom, I forgot to stay awake last night!" Worked like a charm.
After a particularly trying day with my daughter, then age 3, I didn't want our evening to end in frustration. So as I tucked her in, I thought about the good things that had happened that day and told her what my favorite parts were. She started asking me at bedtime, "Mommy, what did you like today?" and talking about the day became our tradition. I've told her how much I liked watching her swing, reading her a story, painting her nails, and doing a puzzle together. Some days it is harder to remember the simple joys of motherhood, but I go to bed feeling better about the day, and so does she.
Rio Rancho, NM
I covered my son's bedroom ceiling with hundreds of glow-in-the-dark star stickers. When it's time for him to go to sleep, I just tell him to count the stars. It never fails.
Stansbury Park, UT
When my daughter was younger, we struggled with how long to read before bed. She always wanted a story, but sometimes she'd take so long getting ready for bed that we'd have only a few minutes before lights-out. My solution was to organize the books by length: short books on the top bookshelf, medium ones in the middle, and the longest on the bottom. Because she liked to pick her books, I would say, "Tonight we have time for a book from the top shelf," or, if we had more time, "We can read something from the bottom shelf tonight." She was motivated to get ready for bed more quickly, and as a bonus, it was an easy way to keep the books organized.
We created pictures of what our sons need to do each night before bed. The pictures are hung on the wall with Velcro in chronological order, and the boys get to move each one to a "done" column once they complete the task. Sometimes they'll find a star instead of a task; that means they get to choose a treat from our prize box. We've been doing this for more than ten years now, and it makes bedtime go smoothly.
Our kids were often scared of the dark and anxious about having bad dreams. One evening, my husband and I came up with a creative way to handle those fears. We took turns "filling the corners" of the bedroom with imaginary things: mountains of Legos, fancy fairy houses, a slide that went from the bedroom to a favorite playground, endless piles of candy, friendly baby animals, and so on. Thanks to this technique, we reassured our kids with positive thoughts and gave them a solid defense against nighttime worries. Although our son is now 10 and our daughter is 8, during stressful weeks, we still get requests from them to "fill the corners."
In trying to fit in homework, dinner, and family time each evening, my husband and I would often lose track of the time and end up letting our daughter stay up too late or hurrying to get her into bed. I decided to set an alarm on my cell phone for 7:50 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. With the help of this reminder, she now has plenty of time for putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, and getting tucked in. This simple idea has really helped our daughter establish a nightly routine.
Bella Vista, AR
To help my son learn to stay in bed, I made a get-out-of-bed-free pass. Once he's tucked in, he can present his pass for something quick like a hug or a drink of water, but after that, he has to stay put for the rest of the evening.
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.