For many parents “Bedtime” and the routines that go with it can be a time of frustration and annoyance instead of the warm, fuzzy and loving connections they want it to be. Asking for more water, additional trips to the bathroom, pleadings for another story or the ever-insistent claim, “But I’m not tired” can leave a parent exasperated and at wits’ end about how to end the bedtime blues.
Want to up the odds that this magical changeover from active time to sleep goes more smoothly?
Here are 3 tips that could help ease this transition and make it a happier time for all.
1. Slowdown Time. Lower the energy level within the family.
Since children’s brains don’t shut down as quickly as adults’, make sure to reduce the activity level of the entire family. No loud music, stimulating TV or other technology. Now is not the time for chores or beginning a project.
Start this process anywhere from 30-45 minutes before you want your children in their rooms. Establishing a pattern of downtime is an indication the day is winding down and helps to signal the child’s brain to make that transition. Adjust this time to what works best for your family.
2. Change the concept. It is no longer “Bedtime.” It is “Bedroom Time.”
What does this mean? The implied message with the term “Bedtime” is that it is time to feel sleepy right now and go to sleep. Ever laid in bed and told yourself, “I really have to go to sleep right now. I have an important meeting tomorrow and need a good night’s sleep”? Trying to make yourself “get sleepy” isn’t very effective, and it doesn’t work well with kids either.
The phrase “Bedroom Time” means it is time for your child to stay in his room, but not necessarily with his eyes closed. For little ones, after stories are read, glass of water, and other routine actions it could mean you leave them tucked in with their favorite stuffed animal and say something like, “Enjoy your cozy bed. Why don’t you tell Pinky (the stuffed toy) a bedtime story? I love you. Now it’s Bedroom Time for you and Grown-Up time for Mommy and Daddy.” What you don’t say is, “Now go to sleep.”
Yawning while you are reading helps too. It is contagious and fun to watch those droopy eyelids.
For older kids who want to turn this into a power struggle and say, “But I’m not tired,” the understanding is “Bedroom Time” means quiet time for them in their room. The agreement is that they stay there and don’t disturb other family members. It’s their choice when they turn the lights out. Regardless of the time, they will be getting up at the normal morning time you’ve selected to start the day.
But what if they stay up late? Won’t they be grouchy in the morning and ill-prepared for school? This scenario could happen. In fact, it’s good that it does because it means your child can learn about natural consequences from a poor decision.
The first time you try this, don’t pick a night when your child has a test the next day. Also, it could help to have a discussion with their teacher ahead of time letting them know you are implementing a new bedroom technique. You are easing tensions and reducing power struggles by teaching your child how to manage their own bedroom transition. It might be a little bumpy at first. And you might have to do it several times before they learn to go to bed earlier.
What are the natural consequences? They drag a bit at school, maybe fall asleep. Or they don’t have the energy at practice or game time. Maybe they are so tired they have to miss a fun time over at a friend’s house or an event you promised to take them to. Whatever the natural consequence, they have learned something. They made their life sad or not fun because of their poor decision to stay up late.
Are you okay with them being tired the next day? Can you refrain from lecturing them about their poor decision? If so, there is a good chance this technique could teach your child a valuable life skill as well as making your evenings a lot more pleasant.
3. Offer Choices. Giving choices about how kids get ready for bed lowers resistance and improves attitude and cooperation.
Do you want to get ready now or in 10 minutes?
Do you want to put on pajamas first or brush your teeth?
Do you like your water in a cup or glass?
Do you want Mom or Dad to tuck you in?
Do you want the door open or shut?
Come up with more choices that fit your child’s personality and age. Choices are fun and can produce a cooperative child. Everyone enjoys having some control in their life. Select choices you like. Be okay with either. Don’t give a choice you don’t like.
If they hesitate and don’t decide, make it for them. This teaches kids to become quick decision-makers. If they argue, say,” I love you too much to argue. Next time I’m sure you will decide more quickly.” Or “Maybe tomorrow, you’ll like the choices better.”
You may have to say this a couple of times until they see you mean what you say. Don’t use sarcasm or an angry tone. Keep calm.
Give these tips a try. Hopefully they create happier evenings and help to end the bedtime blues.
Janada Clark, MA teaches Love and Logic at Stanford and public and private schools. Her parent education classes are a well respected resource for parents. Class information is listed on her website www.janadaclark.com If you would like to receive a free monthly parent newsletter with lots of parenting tips and ideas email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her Facebook community where parents post success stories and questions at facebook.com/clearpatheducation.
Image provided by Melissa Miller & Vinnie Fernandez, PAMP’s Lead Photographers and co-owners of C’est Jolie Photography