1. Just do it. If your child can’t tell time, don’t drag out the process — make the jump in one night, says Kim West, a Maryland clinical social worker and author of Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy. Even if you’ve been putting your 3-year-old down at 9 p.m., you might be surprised at how fast he learns to conk out at 7:30. “Kids have a ‘sleep window’ when they’re ready for bed, often hours before what you’ve been using as their ‘bedtime,'” West says. This is where reading your child’s sleep signals comes into play.
For a clock-watching grade-schooler, you’ll have to explain what you’re doing and perhaps be more gradual, moving bedtime up a few minutes at a time.
2. Make it routine. Setting up a regular sequence of events that leads inevitably and irreversibly toward lights-out is the key to a (relatively) fuss-free bedtime. Most kids need a combination of bathing, reading, back rubbing, and/or singing before they’ll sleep. Not only will a routine like this calm your child, it’s a good nudge: You’re not telling your child to go to bed, the routine is. But keep it simple — you’ll be doing it every night.
3. Troubleshoot. After a few weeks, reassess. If your child is falling asleep at the new time but still has trouble waking up or acts tired during the day, experiment with an even earlier bedtime. If that doesn’t work, and you’ve cut out caffeine and evening TV, you may want to check with your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder.