Ah, bedtime, the best and worst time of day! Some kids really struggle with going to bed. It can be hard to switch from playtime to bedtime, especially if kids don't know what to expect if every night is different kids tend to push the limits and may act out because of the struggle to transition inconsistently. Going through the same motions each night will help signal to your child that it's time to calm down and get ready to sleep. Not only will it send a conscious signal, but the routine can signal the brain to start the transition as well.
Start at least an hour before your desired bedtime and turn off electronics. Instead, either play outside, have a snack, read a book, do a puzzle etc. If it's bath night decide how much time you will need for that and be sure that it is completed on time. (Babies and kids do not need a bath every night and it is not necessary to have it in your routine every day). Try to figure out how much time you want to dedicate for your bedtime routine. Each night complete each step in the same order. TRY to keep bedtime at the same time, but if your family life doesn't allow the same time, try to get close and complete the steps in the same order. When my kids were preschool age, this is what our routine looked like.
- Bath/shower time (if it was bath night)
- Brush teeth and go potty (wash face and hands if not bath night)
- Change into jammies
- Read a story
- Say our prayers
- Start bedtime music and turn off the lights (we used Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins)
We also used a visual schedule to help keep our kids on track. There are several ways to make a visual schedule. At that time, I drew some very simple stick man type of pictures for each step. You can also take a picture of your child doing each step and print them out, (I use Shutterfly for prints and photo storage). You can also use images from the internet. I placed my drawings in a simple photo album. You can use a hole punch and place the pictures on a ring, you can tape them to the mirror in the bathroom and in the bedroom in appropriate places. As you go through each step instead of telling your child what to do next, ask them what the next step is in the routine. It will help your child become more independent as well.
Remember that it is normal for kids to get up a few times once you put them to bed. Not every kid will do this, but most will go through a phase of wanting one more hug, drink, trip to the potty, etc. I HIGHLY recommend that you interact with them as little as possible. No shaming, nagging or complaining, all those interactions will be stimulating for your child and make it harder to go to sleep. Stay calm and return them to bed. I recently heard about a trick of giving them a card for a 1 time pass each night, this way most kids will save it for something important. I have not tried this trick, but my kids don't typically come back out anymore and if they do it's only once.
Staying consistent and using the same music each night will go a long way in reducing bedtime struggles.