Last week I had a suggestion from a Dad that we should talk about getting kids to bed.  He was writing on a Friday night at 11.15 and his pre-schooler was still up.  Birdy has always been really good at going to bed, so I thought I had this topic totally under control, and then this week, she’s played up every night.  And I mean really played up.

Birdy already has a well-honed repertoire of bedtime antics.  The first tactic is always another story, ‘Read it again, Mum’.  Then, there’s the world’s longest tooth brushing event.  There’s sometimes a request for an additional soft toy, like ‘I need doggy.’  After that, it’s on for young and old.  ‘I need another tuck in.  I need another cuddle.  I need the fan on.  I need the fan off.  I need a short prayer.  I need a big one.  A big, big big, one.  I need a tiny little milk.  I need some water.  I need my sleeping bag, etc. That’s all just par for the course.  But this week she’s been outright refusing to go to bed – crying, screaming and thrashing around.  Part of the problem was that we let her sleep with us for a night or two when she was really sick and now she doesn’t want to sleep in her own bed any more.  I’ve had to be iron-willed, and if I’m honest, even a bit mean to get her to sleep in her own bed, but I know it’s the best thing for all of us.  It’ s a night or two of pain for a long-term gain: we’re all so much happier when we’ve had a good night’s sleep.

That doesn’t mean that I just say no to every bedtime request.  If it’s just blatant stalling, then I’ve found it’s better to be firm.  But sometimes I think it can be helpful to let them exercise a little bit of autonomy at bedtime.  Going to bed is something you don’t get a choice about, so those extra requests might be their way of exerting some control over what happens to them.  So if it’s something simple, like wanting a particular blanket, then I’ll usually honour the request.  However, I’ve also found that even the most innocent habit can turn into a problem.  For example, Birdy went through a phase of always asking for a ‘tiny little milk’ before bed, and for a while we used to give it to her, but then she started drinking it so slowly and refusing to hand the cup over.  So we had to put a stop to the ‘tiny little milks’ for good.

On the question of bedtime routines, I certainly think it’s helpful to do things in the same order each night so they know that bedtime is approaching. I also think it helps if your kids go to bed at roughly the same time each night because then their bodies are also telling them it’s time for sleep.  I know some people let their kids stay up as late as they want, but then the couple isn’t getting any time together in the evening.  I also think it’s nice to make staying up late a special treat for when you have something social on.  If you’re always strict about bedtime, with no exceptions, then you’ll miss out on a lot of fun times together.

What tricks do your kids use to delay going to bed?  How do you deal with them?  Do you use a set bedtime, or just go with the flow?  What do you do with a Jack-in-the-Box who keeps popping up again?  Have your kids ever put on a real bedtime protest tantrum?  If so, how have you dealt with it?

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