This is such a difficult scenario that all parents face at some point, so how can we make it easy, gentle and enjoyable for children and for parents alike? Is bedtime a power struggle, ending with “not another word, or else?”
Let’s look at it from a child’s point of view:
Imagine that you are in the middle of a good book and your spouse says, “It’s time for bed, honey.” In spite of your response, “No, I’m not ready yet,” you are unwillingly taken up the stairs, your clothes are removed, and you are forced into taking a bath. How would you feel? Would you feel disrespected, violated, angry, devaluated, and controlled? You may be thinking, “yes, but a two-year-old doesn’t think that way-It’s not the same, he’s not an adult. Besides, I’m the parent.”
True, your child is not yet an adult. However, he is a person. He has feelings and is at an important growth stage of wanting independence and to have his choices be known and honored. This is the beginning of his being an individual-he is establishing his separateness from his parents and is exploring his competence and capabilities. The command of being told what to do and when to do it brings up a feeling of being controlled and having no choice. The issue becomes one of wanting control over ourselves and what happens to us even if the “command” may have value for us (i.e. Going to bed in a timely manner).
Let’s examine what a child’s wants:
Bedtime can be a special time between parents and children because it is natural for us to desire closeness before going to sleep. When we read a bedtime story, your child’s desire for the potty or a drink is a desire for more closeness. It is expressed through asking for a drink and “going potty” , one must understand this. So, consider these questions: What does your own child want before bedtime?
Children want to:
- Feel independent
- Feel close to parents
- Feel a sense of control over what happens to them
- Feel respected and listened to.
How can you, as a parent, give your child what he wants and needs and still have him go to bed in a timely manner?
- Respect your own needs
- Set your child’s bedtime at an hour that allows you some solitude or “couple time” with your partner after your child goes to bed
- Whenever possible have both parents be part of the bedtime ritual
- start your own bedtime ritual 45 minutes to one hour before your child’s actual bedtime to avoid the unnecessary pressure that create stress and struggle
- Respect his sense of time by telling him that bedtime is in 15 minutes, allowing him to complete a particular activity before his actual bedtime hours
- Offer choices instead of orders, your child will have a feeling of control over what happens to him when he is given choices. (For example: “Do you want to wear your blue pajamas or the red ones?”
- Create a bedtime ritual with your child’s help and advice; for example, read a story, snuggle, give three stuffed animals to be kissed, give a him a hug and two kisses and leave the room singing a song (routine is particularly important).
Creating closeness is also important. Here are some ideas:
- Talk about “remember when….,” such as, “Remember when we went camping and that raccoon got into our food stash?”
- Listen to your child’s feeling about his day.
- Say three things that you love about each other.
- Ask open-ended questions that allow your child to share more about himself, such as, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?”
- Some children may talk more freely with the lights out. Try to discover what is most encouraging to your child that will enhance your communication time.
When you start this new bedtime routine, explain once to your child, “If you come out of your room for any reason other than an emergency, I ill lovingly guide or carry you back to your room. I will not talk to you after I say good night and close your bedroom door.” After you have completed your bedroom routine, leave your child’s room as you explained.
It is essential that you do not talk to your child after the bedtime routine is established. Your child will pay much more attention to your actions than to your words. You may have to guide him back to his room several times, particularly at the beginning, because children will sometimes test their parents on new experiences.
You can make bedtime be a time of nurturing, closeness, shared communication and fun. By involving your children in the decision making process and spending this special time with them, they will feel valued and respected, which builds their self-esteem.