Dear Dr. Yael,
My mother took your parenting workshop years ago and it made a real difference in how she raised us. What stands out the most in my mind is that she suddenly stopped screaming. She spoke differently and had more time for us. We would come home and she put on an answering machine and never picked up calls. I was about eight years old, and remember the impact it had on our family. Basically when my mother changed, we all did.
Now I am a young mother and my mom and I are best of friends.
Today, though, I understand the challenges of raising children. For me, one of the hardest times of the day is bedtime. I work really hard at staying in control, but many times I find myself screaming at the kids.
My mother suggested I write to you for some suggestions on how I can be the best loving mother.
A Young, Struggling Mother
Dear Young, Struggling Mother,
Thank you for sharing your positive experience. Bedtime is, indeed, a trying time. The kids want a drink, then they need to go to the bathroom, they forget to show you something, etc. – the list can be endless.
Often bedtime poses certain underlying issues for kids. Will they be missing some fun with the older children or with their parents if they go to sleep? Sometimes they are afraid of the dark. Some kids are concerned that they won’t wake up if they go to sleep. On the other hand, some kids stall because they aren’t tired, which can be a symptom of a larger sleep issue.
Here are some suggestions for a smooth bedtime routine:
- Use reminders to help your child know that bedtime is coming. Start about 30 minutes before, giving your child little reminders that it’s almost time to start the bedtime routine (e.g., we have 30 more minutes to start baths. Then, later on you say, “15 more minutes sweetie”). It’s also a good idea not to start a long activity right before bedtime, so that your child does not get engrossed and want to stay up.
- For younger children, it’s helpful to say “goodnight” to everything.As you go through the steps of your bedtime routine, help your toddler say goodnight to everything he/she sees (think Goodnight, Moon). Goodnight to the toothbrush, goodnight to the potty/toilet, goodnight to his/her books and toys, etc. Reminding your child that it’s night-night for everything will help your child feel better about going to sleep. This can also help you deal with the requests for “just one more.” If your child wants “just one more drink,” you can let him/her know that his sippy cup has gone night-night.
- It’s also important to be a little flexible. Perhaps your child is not as tired as you think. Or maybe your child needs some time to wind down before bedtime. It’s helpful to make a deal: if he/she stays in bed and doesn’t come out or call for you, he/she can look at a book or listen to some calm music. Just like adults, children may need some time to wind down and will benefit from some calm, quiet time before bed. This does not work for all children, so use your judgement on this one.
- Some people find bedtime routine sticker charts to be very helpful. These can be huge motivators for young children. Create a visual chart that outlines the steps of your bedtime routine. Print pictures of all the steps and paste them onto a paper in the order that you expect them to be followed. For children who can read, you can use a checklist chart. Then, model each step on the chart with your child (e.g., go through the chart with him/her for a few days together) and explain that you will put a sticker after each completed step. If your child is older, you can have him or her check each step off and use a sticker chart for a reward system. Instead of just buying your kids any toys they want, you are using an incentive chart to help them “earn” their toys.
Most kids seem to respond to a system of structure and reward. My personal favorite reward is cozy time. Cozy time is lying in bed with your kids and having some snuggle/talking time. But the kids have to follow their routine to get their cozy time. So, it’s helpful to have a set time to begin the routine and allot a specific amount of time until they have to be in bed. Then you can lie down with them. Be sure that you make your expectations clear so they know that they will lose some of their special time if they do not follow through.
If your kids continue to give you a hard time after you have special time, you can let them know that they will not be able to get as much special time the next day if they don’t go to sleep right away. The most important part of this plan is to follow through with your routine and your response. You also have to resolve to stay calm at all costs. It will be hard at first, but if you stick to a plan, you will see that bedtime will be a much calmer and more enjoyable experience and that you will feel much better about it. Furthermore, once the children see that you mean what you say, they will be much more likely to stick to their routine and get to bed quickly because special time with Mommy is priceless!
Even if you do everything right, you may still find yourself dealing with a child who is still stalling at bedtime. Here’s what to do: After you’ve tucked your child into bed and left the room, make sure to be as boring as possible! If your child calls you or comes out of bed, do not react! Just be neutral and dull!
If you find that your child is actually not tired, then you may have a scheduling problem on your hands. Perhaps your child is napping too much during the day or you are starting your bedtime routine too early.
Hatzlocha with bedtime and please let us know how it goes!