The Bedtime Battlefield

bedtimebattle   Do you ever feel like you’ve just gone through a battlefied getting your kids into bed instead of sending them off to dreamland with a smooth transition, hugs, and kisses? If so, you’re not alone! What to do about “Bedtime” is one of the more common questions I get asked – How to make it go smoother, what to do if it goes awry, and how to stay calm and help kids become more independent in getting to bed are just a few of the phrases I hear from parents and grandparents!   To help things go right, about an hour or so prior to bedtime, make sure that you are creating an environment that invites a smooth transition – things should be calmer, less stimulating, and as consistent as possible so that young brains pick up on cues that say “it’s getting to be ‘that time’ of night” and will anticipate what is going to happen next. This is when parents may want to turn off the TV (DVRs are great, aren’t they? They can record any show for later after kids are in bedrooms, falling asleep!), shut down the computers, play a quite board game, finish up homework or talk about the day with their child. Then, at the same time each night, you can start bed time with a wonderful transitional phrase (a choice):   Parent: “Hey sweet ones, it’s almost time for bed, what would you like….3 minutes or 5 minutes to finish up what you are doing before we start your other choices?” Child: 5 minutes Parent: Do you want me to set the timer or do you want to? Child: You do it!   Next, offer choices… lots of choices!! Collaborating with your child about their bedtime routine will help them take ownership of getting each task accomplished and ending up in bed in a timely fashion. The younger the child, the more detailed the choices should be and the more involvement will be required of the parent, due to the child’s age and capability. ** Here is an example of using choices for collaborating with your child at bedtime:   Parent: Would you like to brush your teeth first or take your shower first? Parent: Would you rather have a song or a book? Do you want me to read it or daddy? Parent: Do you want to sing the song or have me sing it with you? Parent: Would you rather have the light on or the light off? Parent: Would you like 5 minutes or 10 minutes of talk-time tonight…with me or daddy?   Some children need more structure than others. They want to know ahead of time what is going to happen next. Creating a supporting tool to help meet your individual child’s need for structure might feel overwhelming, especially if you have several children! This is why collaborating with your child is so important. When they participate, they choose what works for them, you are much more likely to get “buy-in” from them (their ownership of the solution), and they are putting forth some of the actual effort in producing the tool to help solve the problem.   If your child likes to check things off a list or if verbal choices don’t seem to be doing the trick, try visual ones. For example: take a picture of your child doing each bedtime activity, like brushing their teeth, reading a book, sleeping, picture of a clock with the start time for bedtime routine, etc. Take the pictures and put them on cards.  Then each night, have them choose the order of their routine (always beginning with the picture of the clock and ending with the sleeping card – they choose the order of the cards in between). Allowing them to choose the order of the routine often squelches any tantrums since you are sharing the control with them by collaborating together. Most children will choose one order/routine that feels comfortable to them and stick with it. A few will want to “change it up!” These are the kids that need variety in their lives, they have active minds and bodies and are constantly “on the go!” Choices are a win/win for this child and for parents by providing the diversity desired along with the firm, loving limits the child needs to feel safe and loved.   **Note: I recommend turning over responsibility to the child when I can determine that they are able to independently complete each task, using only a visual or verbal cue for their chosen support tool, i.e. Keri’s “ Morning and Bedtime Routine Boards”, a daily “To Do” list or responding with clarity and action when they hear you ask, “What’s next on your plan for today/tonight?” as described above. Still, there are a few kids whose DNA pushes them to test the waters and see what will happen if you do (or don’t do)…. something. If that happens, and they decide to throw a fit, (Peanut Butter parenting…Pause….and…Breathe…) then, with lots of genuine empathy, lovingly say: Parent: “Ohhhh…. man….It looks like we’re alllllll done for tonight.”   Very gently scoop them up into a hug and take them into their room. Give them a squeeze and a kiss; while still giving the child choices followed with a powerful I WILL STATEMENT which tells the child what you are willing to do, not what you won’t do, for example: Parent: “Do you want the light on or off? The door open or closed? I will be happy to leave the door open for kids who stay…quietly… in their bed….” “So, sweetheart, I’m happy to leave the door open for kids who do what...? (Wait for their response, which should be to repeat the main focus of your “I will statement.” If they don’t respond, no worries, you’ve made your statement, now follow through!)   Child: “I know, kids who stay quietly in their bed…”   Regardless of how well or if there are a few hiccups when you first implement this bedtime routine, remember, there’s always tomorrow to try again!  Ending the bedtime routine in this way should only need to happen for a few nights – the child generally gets the idea that they are welcome to be with you and get to do the routine with the choices they like, when they can be calm, cooperative, and sweet to be around.   Remember a few weeks ago, I talked about Responsibility and Accountability? I said that we had to first teach children what they needed to know prior to being able to hold them accountable for the responsibilities we expect them to take on. This applies to bedtime routines. Make sure they are clear about your instructions, that what you are asking is age appropriate and that they have mastered it prior to you having them take in on independently. Really important: Have a practice session during the daytime! Have lots of fun and role play how the bedtime routine might go…. Then finish it off with a treat! Here’s how it might go: Parent: “Hey guys, let’s do something really silly…. Let’s pretend its bedtime, right now, during the day and see who can do their whole routine the fastest. Then when we are all done pretending, we’ll make some ice cream sundaes. Ready? Okay, it’s time for bed. Let’s get our bedtime cards out….. etc.”   In this role-play with small children, I like to trade places with them and play the child and have them play the parent. It often gives me insight as to how it feels for them during our bedtime struggles. I’ve learned a lot!   Once in bed, when a kid falls asleep will depend on the individual child. Some kids fall asleep quickly; others struggle with an active mind that wants to keep on going… Trying to “MAKE” a child fall asleep, in my experience, is a futile effort. I wish I could make myself fall asleep whenever I wanted to….but alas, I can’t even seem to do that! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t seem to want to shut off – that’s true for our children, too! Soothing, soft music (ear buds or headphones are helpful), white noise machine or a fan going in their room can help, allowing them to read can help. Melatonin can be very helpful, make sure you check with their pediatrician, first, however.   Make sure you continue to give lots of choices that night (and every night) after the practice session. If this doesn't improve after a week, there may be something else going on. If this is your concern, please send me an email and I’d be happy to discuss it with you Have fun parenting! Keri