When my friend Lucy asked that I do a bedtime post, I was a little hesitant. This is because bedtime is usually the hardest time of day here in the pink house. Interestingly enough I have had at least one child under 6 years old for over 13 years now and I have learned a little from my mistakes and successes that I can share with you.
The first and most important thing to remember is consistency and that you are responsible for making it happen. I often fail here. But I'm getting better. With my first all I cared about was that she slept. How and when were irrelevant. We did everything to try to get her to sleep, sling, swing, stroller, rocking, 2 am car rides... you get the picture. I am not advocating a parenting style here but we were all about "attachment parenting." It wasn't a plan we just fell into it naturally as we searched for ways to soothe our "high needs child." We had a family bed and she nursed continually until she was nearly 3 and continued in our bed until she was 5. I must interject this was not because I enjoyed the set up but mainly due to lack of consistency and giving up due to exhaustion. Even now she prefers to sleep with her sisters and is rarely asleep before 11pm. Lesson learned: Start early and be adaptable-but keep consistent.
With each consecutive child we have drifted more and more towards a routine, until now with #4 one might say we have her on a schedule.
Now I assume the question is more about bedtime battles with preschool age children. Early on I would read to them and lay in bed next to them until they went to sleep(I often did also) then carefully sneak out. When they did wake to find me gone in the night they would end up in our bed. We were getting more sleep but still not ideal. Lesson learned-When they fall asleep with you next to them they expect you there when they wake up.
Now to address the hope that they will go to bed and stay in bed. Up for water, to go potty, because they're itchy, saw a spider etc... I am ashamed to tell you a few of the many ways I have dealt with this. Bribes, spankings, yelling, threatening to lock their door. (Yes, spankings, which I am against. Yet in desperation obviously I let go of my ideals.) Again notice I didn't deal with it consistently. What I would hope to do is simply and quietly walk them back to bed each time they get up. Remaining cool, calm and consistent. It may require physically carrying them back to bed-against their will. Do it. Then do it again, and again...and repeat. Lesson learned- Do not fall prey to every single piece of advice you hear/read.
We do pretty good now. The baby has slept through the night since she was 2 months old. A night or two a week we may wake up to someone in our bed. If one has a bad dream I comfort them and lay with them a bit.
Our routine for our 5 and 7 year old is, and has been, PJ's, bedtime snack, teeth brushing/flossing, stories, prayers and kisses. They'll get up once or twice then I firmly tell them to stay in bed and no more getting up. They do listen to music.
Here is my biggest piece of advice. Buy the book 'Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children'.
It truly changed how we approach sleep issues. It isn't a specific program but lots of different approaches to suit your particular child.