It’s a familiar battlefield to parents…bedtime. And we face some worthy opponents…kids who would rather do anything, ANYTHING, than to be tucked in for the night.
I have several of these kinds of warriors living in my home. They are convinced that they will miss out on all kinds of dazzle and adventure should they be restricted to the confines of their bedrooms prior to midnight.
We all know that kids need adequate rest to perform well at school, support a growing body and reduce the amount of potential crankiness for the next day. And then there’s this; we parents need some decompression time in the evening, sans kids, for our own sanity. But our nocturnal offspring may not accept the wisdom of the early night. We’re going to need more than restful reasoning to accomplish the goal.
Pre-Emptive Strike #1: Instead of springing an immediate bedtime announcement on the kids, we give them a 15 minute warning. And then a 10 minute warning. And then a 5. And a 3. And it still seems to come as something of a surprise to them, but at least there has been an opportunity for the information to soak in a bit. I also like to start out that 15 minute warning by setting the kitchen timer. The kitchen timer becomes the dictator instead of me and for some reason, it’s harder to argue with a beeping timer. In our size family and with our level of activities, there are weeknights we are out later than others. The 15 minute warning helps keep a level of consistency when a routine set bedtime isn’t possible in busy family life.
Pre-Emptive Stike #2: Anticipate the excuses. The more items you can check off the list, the smoother the to-the-sheets transition. If you have a kid who always comes up with the classic, “I’m really thirsty/hungry” salvo, make sure that a light snack is available right before the bedtime dance begins. Leave the closet light on for the kid who raises the “I’m scared of the dark” flag. The “I gotta potty” evasion is the gold standard, but is easily mitigated by insisting on a pre-bed bathroom visit. The more excuses you anticipate and meet ahead of time, the less wrangling bedside you’ll be doing.
Pre-Emptive Strike #3: Pick your battles. Mike and I don’t insist on total dark, lights off, no sound kind of bedtimes. We provide a soft nightlight, and if the kids want to look at books or play with small toys while in bed, fine. The only stipulation is that they must stay in bed. Let’s face it, most of us simply can’t be ‘commanded’ to go to sleep. We all have our little habits that help us unwind and prepare for slumber. Kids have the same needs. I’m not too worried about a little book or quiet playtime as long as we ultimately achieve the objective.
Pre-Emptive Strike #4: Don’t get so focused on the goal that you might miss the moment. When kids are tired and the day has been long, it can be easy to miss when a sincere need arises. Sometimes, the deepest, most vulnerable conversations I’ve had with a child have happened when they’ve had a hard time going to sleep and have needed a little extra attention. Sometimes, that’s when I’ve found out about a friend issue or a fear that’s been on their hearts or a place where they are feeling inadequate. When I’ve been able to listen with my heart and not just with my eye on the clock and my mind of the task, those times have turned into parenting platinum. Yes, getting the kids down in a pretty consistent manner for bedtime has its value, but sometimes the greatest value is when the system has been ditched and matters of the heart have taken precedent.
Pre-Emptive Strike #5: As much as possible, make bedtime sweet, fun, silly and loving. A Bible story or two, a short prayer, a kiss and a hug can go a long way. We even have a little hand signal (the ‘I Love You’ sign) and secret handshake to cap off the evening, a little marker that seals the deal. When bedtime becomes fraught with threats and discipline and emotion, that negative environment can get embedded in a kid’s mind…and make the next night and the next night and the next night more difficult as resistance and reluctance grows. When a child feels like they’ve had your affection and attention in good measure throughout the bedtime process, they’ll hopefully feel more confident in easing off to sleep. And you’ll probably sleep better, too, instead of beating yourself up over a hostile bedtime throw-down.
Even with the best of preparations, bedtime can sometimes result in a battle. We’ve had our nights when every trick in the book didn’t seem to work. But a little heads up, a lot of love, some flexibility and an extra nightlight or two are certainly worth a try. Sweet dreams!