Beating the Bedtime Blues
Does bedtime conjure up images of screaming, crying and bargaining? Do you dread putting your child to bed? Do you hope and pray for your child to fall asleep so you can enjoy a few minutes of adult time before your own bedtime? If so, you’re not alone. Bedtime woes are a priority that many of my clients want help tackling.
Why is bedtime so difficult?
Just like us, children have Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). When children picture adults staying awake while they are asleep, they don’t think of us scrubbing dishes, folding laundry, or finishing up a work project. Instead, they imagine us watching their favorite movie while enjoying a huge bowl of ice cream. Understand that no one wants to be left out and empathize with your child’s feelings, “I know it feels unfair that I’m awake while you sleep, but little bodies need more rest than big bodies. You will get to stay up later when you grow bigger.” Even worse than the fear of being left out is the fear of our parents abandoning us; children trust us to keep them safe, so they are born with a powerful instinct to stay close. Instead of impatience with your child, ensure they have a comfortable environment, soft pajamas, a favorite lovey, and soothing bedtime stories. Fear of the dark, nightmares, and night terrors are all legitimate reasons why your child might not want to go to bed. Talk your child through their fears, ensure them that they are safe and that you will be nearby, and provide a comfortable and relaxing environment. Lastly, unpleasant experiences leave footprints on our psyche. Do you feel your belly flop when you think of going to the dentist? Doubtlessly that’s because you have unpleasant memories of previous experiences at the dentist. Disagreeable and stressful events amplify when they are repeated, re-enforcing our negative feelings and sense of dread. When this happens, the best way to break the pattern is by ending the bedtime battle.
“I’m not tired!”
Are you familiar with the expression, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? We all know this, and yet parents trap themselves in a daily ordeal they can never win. If you are doing the same thing over and over and it isn’t working, you have to stop what you are doing instead of trying to change your child. Ask yourself, “Is my child tired?” Sometimes, when your child says, “I’m not tired,” it’s because he really isn’t tired. Research how many hours of sleep are developmentally appropriate for your child and ensure you aren’t trying to get him to sleep more than he actually needs. Wake your child up at the same time daily. Don’t let her sleep more because she went to bed late the night before, waking your child up at the same time each day will help re-set her internal clock to make her sleepy at bedtime. Turn off screens at least one hour before bedtime. T.V., computer, and video screens suppress our body’s production of melatonin, a sleep hormone, turning off screens and doing a relaxing activity like a bath, puzzle, or book, will help your child fall asleep.
Give up the battle
You can’t make your child sleep and trying to force the issue each night just makes this time of day more stressful for both of you. The longer you struggle to enforce a bedtime, the longer it will take your child to fall asleep. Instead, try “fading bedtime,” a gradual process for getting your child to want to sleep. On the first night, wait until your child is physiologically ready to sleep. Try to keep your child awake until he is acutely tired. Your goal is to ensure he is so tired that he will easily fall asleep on his own within fifteen minutes. If your child fell asleep within fifteen minutes, continue this schedule for another night. Once he is able to easily fall asleep for two consecutive nights, you can move his bedtime up fifteen minutes earlier. Continue this process until your child is consistently and easily able to fall asleep on his own and is getting enough rest. If your child struggles with falling asleep in fifteen minutes at any time in the process, go back fifteen minutes and restart from there. You and your child will both be tired and cranky as you adjust to bedtime without the battle, but in the end, your child will have a consistent bedtime and bedtime will no longer be difficult.
You and your child deserve a pleasant bedtime, not a daily struggle with yelling, tears, and frustration. Nightly hugs, books enjoyed together, and amiable routines should be how you end the day. Bedtimes where your child feels safe, loved, and connected will build bonds and help you have a healthy, happy relationship with your child.
I love seeing the transformations families can make from chaos to clarity as I help them tackle challenges like bedtime. Helping families find real solutions customized to their family’s individual needs is why I coach. I have spent my career working with families with young children and being a positive influence on their lives gives me great joy and pride in my work. If you would like to hear more about my services and how I can support your family, please schedule a free call with me. I would love to hear about your family and learn about your individual family’s needs.