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  • Writer's pictureDale V Wayman, PhD

The Bedtime Formula

The Bedtime Formula is an Adlerian technique that I have used in many situations with children who have trouble getting to bed, often they are throwing a tantrum or coming up with all kinds of "last minute" things to do before they go to bed so that their bedtime is delayed. Adlerians believe that one of the best things you can do for a child is to help them establish a good bedtime ritual as that will follow them into adulthood and lead to less sleep problems. For this to work, the child and the parents (or other caregiver who is with the child near bedtime) have to agree to follow "the doctor's orders". So, I often handwrite this formula on what looks like a prescription pad, personalizing it for this child's situation, and signing off with a flourish, noting, "you need to do this exactly the way it is written for this to work." Here is an example, for a 6-year-old boy named Bubba: 1. Bubba, when 7:00 comes, I want you to start thinking about going to bed. 2. By 7:15, you need to be undressed and standing in the bathtub.

3. Mom or Dad you then go in to the bathroom and make a nice bubblebath for Bubba, make sure the water is to his liking, not too hot not too cold. 4. Bubba, while you are taking a bath, Dad or mom will put your towel and pajamas in the dryer to get them fresh and warm.

5. At 7:45, Mom or Dad will bring in your towel. You just need to unplug the tub so that the water drains out and step out of the tub into that nice warm towel. Dry yourself off really good and then put on your nice warm pajamas. That feels really good and you notice that you even start to feel sleepy.

6. Meet Mom or Dad at the kitchen table where they will have small glass of milk and a cracker or two. Talk about what kinds of dreams you would like to have while you sleep.

7. Then at 8:00, go to the bathroom to pee and brush your teeth on the way to your bedroom. When you get to your bedroom, you need to lay out your clothes for the next day and turn on your alarm. Then Dad or Mom can tuck you in, read a short book or 3 pages out of a story book and kiss you good nite, turn out the light and you go to sleep.

8. When you alarm goes off in the morning, I want you to turn off your alarm, get up, go to the bathroom, pee and wash your hands and then go to the kitchen, grab a bowl and spoon and a box of cereal and wait for Dad or Mom to come and pour the milk on your cereal. When you're done eating, go to your room, get dressed and start your day.

Comments: Hopefully, you get a basic understanding of the Bedtime Formula. It needs to be customized for each family: bedtime, getting up time, food/drink at bedtime, etc. This customization and the edict to "follow the doctor's order's" are crucial. As you write out this formula demonstrate (and possibly have Bubba demonstrate) what is to be done. It is important to emphasize the good feelings of drying off with a warm towel and putting on warm pajamas and feeling sleepy, saying that part almost hypnotically as a sensation suggestion. Bubba and the parents need to report how they did on following the formula at the next appointment. If you notice these are really directives for parents and trying to make Bubba responsible through the process. Therefore, both the parents and Bubba need to work together. This is simply a behavioral method that doesn't get into family dynamics, trauma history, enuresis, etc. This is a good starting place and I found that it works more often than it doesn't work, if the formula is consistently followed. If this formula is consistently followed and bedtime issues persist, then we need to delve deeper into thoughts, patterns, trauma, medical issues, parenting style, night terrors, etc. This article gives some guidelines in helping with bedtime hassles:

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