The Opportunity of Bedtime, Part Two — Troubleshooting Bedtime Challenges
This week two readers share their challenges with bedtime. Perhaps these problems are similar to yours? One feels the bedtime routine stretches longer and longer while she is tired and wants to move through it more quickly. The other receives calls after the “Good nights” have been said. Fears of the dark, a desperate thirst and most likely, a need for further attention keep her jumping up and down, returning to her daughter’s bedroom when she’s trying to have her own time at the end of a long day. Read on and see if some of the responses might assist you as you try to create a bedtime routine that is a positive experience for the whole family.
Our biggest challenge with bedtime is how long it takes! Although we have a set routine, it is a drawn out process that I am looking forward to streamlining as the kids get older. Admittedly, I realize this process is of our own doing, but it has also become an important part of the day; it is an opportunity to connect with the kids in a way that is different from other times. So, I am of two minds about the bedtime routine right now: I want to enjoy this time to read and snuggle while they are young, but I also have a hard time accepting how much time it eats up of our evenings.
I love hearing about your bedtime! It sounds like you have a lot of goodness established with that time of day – a predictable routine in which kids connect with parents and read together. But it also sounds like your energy and motivation is spent by the end of the day. I feel the same! Here are a few suggestions for helping speed up what can be a long process.
Discuss bedtime activities at another time. When cooperatively designing your bedtime routine, guide kids to place the “business” of bedtime first (put on pajamas, brush teeth, wash face). Save the best parts (the parts they enjoy) like snuggling and stories for last so there is some incentive to move through the tasks of the evening quickly to get to the good stuff.
Offer one limited choice. Since you are trying to reduce the time spent on bedtime, you likely don’t want to offer a lot of choices. Choices require more time. But one choice (which pajamas to wear, which book to read with limited options) can help children feel a sense of control over bedtime and feel ownership for the contribution to that time of day. They also will be less likely to engage in a power struggle.
Use a timer and make it a game. If you struggle with children taking a long time to put on pajamas or you need them to do a more thorough job with brushing their teeth, consider using a sand timer (one minute timer). These can be turned around and controlled by children who will feel more ownership. The timer turns the task into an enjoyable game instead of Mom repeatedly reminding or nagging.
Do a dry run. If your child tends to enjoy performing, act out the bedtime play some dreary Saturday when you are home with no plans. Set clear goals for the theatrical production about your behavioral expectations and how this is a new and improved version of bedtime.
Conduct a teaching bedtime experience. Enlist an older sibling to help teach a younger sibling how to move through the routine smoothly. Or enlist all children to teach a stuffed friend or doll how to go about the bedtime routine. If you do this during a regular bedtime, attempt it on a weekend and plan for a longer bedtime that night. Make it fun and celebratory. Use it to remind and reinforce positive behaviors on future nights.
Be direct, brief and remind once. Avoid nagging and repeating directions over and over. If you do nag, children begin to expect it and it can escalate the procrastination. If you’ve developed the routine together, remind them in a brief statement about their next move, set the timer and go about your own next step. Show that each person is responsible for taking care of his own business.
Take a night off. I realize for some this just may not be possible. If you are a single parent or juggling multiple children, you may feel you need to be “on” every night. However if you plan one night a week in which one parent takes the full burden and the other takes off and then you trade on another night, it can give you added fuel for the rest of the week. Older siblings can also be enlisted to help out with younger siblings on those nights. Talk about it again in advance with all members. “What are the ways you can you help your sister with bedtime on the nights when it’s just the three of us?”
Our challenge is the kids calling us after we’ve already said goodnight. They need a glass of water or they are scared of the dark. It seems there is any excuse to get us back in the room talking to them.
Just when you think you are finished for the day, you hear “Moooom!” See if the following suggestions might help you create the time you need for yourself after you say “Good night.”
Be brief, boring and consistent. Make it clear that after you say good night, that’s the end of the snuggles and enjoyable interactions. Certainly responding to needs is important but make it quick and all about the business. Keep lights down or out as possible. Whisper and say as little as you possibly can. The message is, “We are finished for the evening but I’ll quickly get you what you need to get to sleep.” The child’s goal at this time is to get attention. After your consistent lack of attention (but brief, boring responsiveness), they will get the point.
If children are scared, examine corners and assign a lookout. Children are often afraid of being left alone in the dark. Their imaginations which serve them well during the day can create all kinds of unwanted creatures in their rooms at night. If you anticipate this is going to be an issue, make it part of your routine to inspect all corners, closets and under the bed. When E was really young, he was convinced there were monsters so we would talk to the monsters every night before we went upstairs and promptly escort them out of the front door and lock the door behind so he knew we had taken care of the problem. You can also assign a stuffed friend to be a lookout and send any monsters away while your child is sleeping. The more ceremonial you can be with this, the more convincing the role of the animal will be for the child. You might consider presenting a medal of honor for the teddy bear or a special hat to wear while he’s on night duty.
Bedtime can provide a magical way to connect with children. It can also be a time when parents are tired, patience may be limited and children are louder and wigglier trying to keep the fun going. But with consistency and a cooperatively designed routine, you can get through the tasks smoothly and focus on the parts that really connect you to one another.
For a related article, check out The Opportunity of Bedtime, Part One.