Each morning I wake excited to start another day in the world of parenting. Making promises to myself to remain present, patient and, well, extra patient. As a parent of young children, you really can’t have enough patience, can you? After I have asked my children what they want for breakfast for the third time (with no answer), packed healthy (sort of) lunches and shuffled my family out the door breathless,
I feel a good portion of the patience and zest I began the day with has already been significantly depleted.
Fast forward through the rest of the day. Between work demands, home demands and general life and parenting demands, I cannot wait for the moment I am kissing my little cherubs while they slumber peacefully in their beds. But wait. It dawns on me about the same time every day, just after dinner and before baths, I realize I still have to leap that last looming, mountainous hurdle called bedtime. We all feel it at the end of the day. You are so close you can taste it. But that bucket of patience you started the day with has just one last glimmering drop in the bottom. In his hit book, with the same title, Adam
Mansbach dared to say what we are all thinking in those last moments of the day, “Go the F**k to Sleep”.
Why is it that I, along with all of my friends and nearly every family I have consulted with, find bedtime to be the most challenging segment of the day? For one, everyone is tired, plain and simple. People who are tired, both big and small, exhibit hindered coping skills. Routine tasks such as diaper changing, teeth brushing, dressing in pajamas, and choosing bedtime books are really no different than the other countless tasks you have successfully managed throughout the day. They just feel different because you are so darn tired.
I’m not sure if bedtime will ever be easy, but here are a few ideas to help make the most challenging part of the day just a little less challenging.
Just as you might pick out clothes the night before in hopes your morning runs more smoothly, use the same concept, but in reverse. It will be much easier for you and your child to make a decision on pajamas, books, lovies and stories during the day when everyone’s sleep pressure is lower and you still have the will to say no. No, tutus, bathing suits and batman costumes are not necessarily the best choices for night ware.
Implement a routine, a routine within your routine, and if necessary, a routine inside that routine. You get the point. Babies and young children rely heavily on consistency and predictability. It is stress reducing for everyone when you can all cruise through bedtime on autopilot. So please, stay the course. If you brushed teeth to the Raffi song last night and the night before that, then it’s Raffi again tonight.
Stay consistent within fifteen minutes of your child’s typical bedtime. We’ve all been there. It’s been a hell of a day and you are sure you cannot physically or emotionally make it to your child’s regular bedtime. It’s just too far away. Then the idea hits you. This is exactly how Edison must have felt with the invention of the lightbulb. You think, “I’m going to do bedtime an hour early tonight. After all, my baby can’t tell time…or can she?” Sometimes, this tactic works. If your child has accrued some sleep debt throughout the day or week, she may be able to fall asleep an hour early with no trouble. However, if it is only you that is exhausted, and your baby has been getting the rest she needs, it is likely you are going to be asking your child to do something she cannot. She may not be able to read a clock, but her biological clock reliably tells her body when it is time to sleep. It may seem like a brilliant idea at first, but there’s a good chance putting your child to bed an hour early may backfire. A young baby can become frustrated and upset with a longer than normal duration of awake time in her crib, while an older child may begin popping up out of bed until she is able to fall asleep. The only thing more tedious than bedtime, is a prolonged bedtime with unhappy protesting children.
Set the mood. Think lounge, not night club. Slow things down, dim the lights, play some soft music, and incorporate a massage. Sounds heavenly, no? Your baby will think so too. Less is more when it comes to your child’s sleep environment. Keep it cool, dark, quiet and safe. Don’t be fooled by sheep that make noise and then shut off on a timer or sound machines with whales singing, crickets chirping or waves crashing. When it’s time to turn the lights out, turn the lights out. All the lights. As well as the music and the whales. Continuous white noise that is turned on at bedtime and stays on throughout the night can help block extraneous sounds. Birds chirping can be lovely, but not at five in the morning.
No “rough housing” at bedtime. This one may seem like a no brainer, but some parents report their baby or child gets a “second wind” leading up to bedtime, exhibiting silly or energetic behavior. This is the time they love to be chased around the house or tossed up in the air. Don’t be fooled. This energetic, giddy or rambunctious behavior can actually be a symptom of exhaustion in young children and a signal your child is becoming overtired. This is exactly the time you want to turn yourself into “nighttime mom or dad” and take things down a notch instead of ramp it up. When in doubt, bore them to sleep.
There’s no two ways about it, bedtime just isn’t an easy time of day. The sleep consultant in me would tell you to try the above mentioned and seek out professional advice if bedtime at your house is truly unbearable for everyone involved. The mom in me would share a saying that I heard early on in my parenting career and try hard to always remember, “The days are long, but the years are short.”
Kristen relies on her many years of experience, as well as her education and background, to create individualized sleep or specified parenting support for every family she works with. She enjoys living in a small town north of Boston with her husband, son and daughter.
Joanna is an educator, holistic health counselor and mother of two young children. She has 15 years of teaching experience with children from infancy to 18 yrs of age, focusing the last 4 years consulting schools and young families.
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