The Search for Bedtime Tranquility (part 1)

Part 1: Do they really know what to do?

Lincoln after a night of not sleeping well

Here we are as parents feeling great because we are teaching our children to be independent. They can do all these wonderful things that we need them to do. So why do we have such a hard time when we tell them to do something? Why does brushing teeth become such a circus? Why do I need to spend five minutes in the bathroom cleaning up after I get the kids to bed? Great questions and I will try to give you a few answers that you may not think are correct but just may be spot on.

Let’s look at what a child has to do independently to be ready to get into bed. We are going to do what is called a task analysis of bedtime.

1. Brush their teeth

2. Put on their pajamas including pull-up if needed

3. Pick out and read or listen to a bedtime story

4. Tell everyone good night

5. Turn out the light and turn on nightlight

6. Climb into bed with covers over them and get tucked in

7. Fall asleep

As you can see a lot of skills are needed for that nightly routine. It is also obvious that to be this independent the child has to be at certain developmental stages. Brushing teeth at 12 months is usually done with absolute parent intervention. If a stepstool is available a two year old could be taught to brush their teeth independently though with limited effectiveness. But most likely a child is older by the time they can do this task with any effect on the health of their teeth. The above skills need to be taught before our child can independently get ready for bed. Lets break the steps in the process down further. We will analyze what a child needs to be able to do to independently brush their teeth. We will assume a child knows they have teeth.

1. Knowledge of what a toothbrush is and what it is used for and why (Basic Dental Hygiene). Answer: to clean our teeth and keep them healthy.

2. Locate, position and use a step stool without falling.

3. Turn on water facet to cool water and a low flow. No flooding

4. Locate and hold the toothbrush correctly.

5. Locate toothpaste, take off lid or flip lid open, put toothpaste on the toothbrush, recap the toothpaste and put it away without losing the toothpaste you put on the brush. Tricky business here.

6. Brush teeth in up and down motion, moving over all of the teeth to clean them inside and out. Minimum of two minutes

7. Rinse mouth of toothpaste thoroughly and spitting it out into the sink without getting everything around you wet. Possibly use a plastic cup to get water into the mouth.

8. Rinse toothbrush and put toothbrush away.

9. Dry your mouth and face.

10. Climb down from stepstool and put it away.

11. Turn lights out and leave the bathroom.

(If I missed anything just let me know in the comments and I will correct it.)

At this point we should all be fairly exhausted and this is just the first thing they have to do at bedtime. It always amazes me at how many steps there are in something as simple as brushing your teeth. We all may think our child can do these tasks independently but by analyzing tasks we want them to do, we can find the gaps in their knowledge that we did not realize was there. As parents with busy lives we do not always slow down enough to realize what gaps are in our child’s learning process. A task analysis takes the mystery out of some bad behavior whether it is caused by confusion or lack of skills. Helping your child learn has great future benefits. Now it is time to see if our child knows how to do all these steps. If they cannot do them then they are not an independent brusher. But that is okay because it can be taught. Consistent instruction and modeling (*I do it, We do it, You do it) will help your child learn to do this task independently. It is a great time for you to brush your teeth as well. This should always be done with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

Wait until you introduce floss. Now that’s fun!!

This type of analysis can be done for each task necessary for bedtime. This will help you determine what needs to be taught to promote the independent behavior you want your child to display. Using a behavior point system, like PopChart.Family, for the steps that are difficult for them or those they don’t want to do, will give them the incentive they need to include the steps into their routine. After they have been getting points for doing this task and they become competent then points can be given intermittently and eventually stopped for that task.

Next time we will be looking at how to develop a schedule for a healthy bedtime routine.

I do it, We do it, You do it: I do it is exactly that; you brush their teeth for them, We do it; when the child holds the brush and you put your hand over his to help him brush, You do it; the child brushes their teeth independently.

The Search for Bedtime Tranquility series:

  • Introduction
  • Part 1 — Do they really know what to do?
  • Part 2 — How to develop a schedule for a healthy bedtime routine
  • Part 3 — Let PopChart help you get the peaceful evenings you crave

About the Author

Anita Licklider has a MS in Educational Management, credentials in special education, general education, counseling and School Psychology. She has over thirty years of experience working with children in and outside the educational setting.

She has done individual and group counseling with kids from 4 years to 16 years old.

Anita also developed and implemented behavior intervention plans for special education and general education students and families. She advocated for kids writing IEP and 504 plans for the school districts.