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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