Every parent dreads the nights when bedtime seems to last forever. We go through our bedtime routine, read books, snuggle and say goodnight, and within minutes they are back up. The list of bedtime requests can be seemingly endless, from a drink of water to a missing snuggle to a suddenly discovered splinter. I believe one time our daughter asked if we could make the birds stop chirping. Sometimes, you can even watch them ponder what they should ask for next.
As I mentioned in a previous post on GROW Parenting, there is a bit of a mismatch between parent and child needs at this time of the day. Parents are ready to say goodnight, get their own chores done and possibly have a little time to relax. Kids are finally winding down, have enjoyed the connection with us during bedtime and want more of that special time together.
While periods of bedtime whack-a-mole are absolutely normal, they can make for frustrated parents and exhausted kids. Often, it’s a matter of providing some gentle reminders to our children on what bedtime and nighttime are for and some boundaries to help them stick to their part of the solution. Here are some tips to help you through this common parenting challenge.
Start with a conversation
Before kids (and adults) are willing to try something different, they need to feel heard. Therefore, starting off with a conversation where you listen, empathize and validate what your child might be feeling, is critical to gaining their cooperation.
Ask questions that help you understand your child’s perspective. You can show empathy by sharing a time when you had a hard time sleeping or when you felt lonely, or when you were a child and didn't want to go to bed. Stick to how he might be feeling/how you felt at first. Our tendency is to quickly move on to how their actions impact us. By taking the time to listen first, we are much more likely to invite cooperation instead of rebellion.
Find a solution together
Now that your child has had some time to feel heard at a calm time, you can move on to problem solving together. Remind your child about the problem with a quick validation of feelings:
"Remember when we talked about what might be hard for you about going to bed/staying in bed? We totally get it, and we can't make you sleep. That is totally up to you. We do need to figure out how we can solve this problem though. Parents have their chores to do after bedtime so our family can be ready for the next day, and during the night we need our sleep so we are rested and ready for a good day."
Then you might ask, "You are really good at solving problems. I wondered if you had any ideas of how we can solve this problem of needing lots of things at bedtime and wanting us to come in during the night?"
Depending on the age of your child, they may come up with some great ideas by themselves, or you can offer a few possible solutions. Here are some favorites that have worked for many families I have worked with, including my own.
1) Create a bedtime box. Share with your child that while they may not be able to go right to sleep, perhaps a box of special items to play with while they get ready to sleep could help them stay in bed. Find a shoebox and decorate the outside together. Then, have your child pick out some special items to have in their bed so they have everything they need to feel safe and cozy at bedtime. Maybe a few books, a flashlight, a favorite toy or two and a lovey. At bedtime, ask them what they can do if they are having a hard time sleeping. Likely, they will be excited to have their new special bedtime box and that will keep them occupied for a few nights and break the whack-a-mole cycle.