I hastily glance down at my watch. “Wow, it’s getting late,” I muse. My youngest son is lying on the couch wrapped in a green blanket. He looks like a little pea in a pod. “Can I stay up and sleep here?” he questions. His big, round puppy-dog eyes beg as they look up at me. His smile reaches from ear to ear.
Oh, how I love his sweet face. I smile back. “Not tonight. You have school tomorrow,” I quickly explain.
“I will go to sleep,” he argues.
He is going to battle you over this, jeers the negative voice in my head. This is going to turn out badly. I push the sabotaging voice aside.
Stay close, be quiet, and connect, I repeat to myself. This is my new parenting mantra that I use to guard myself against responding negatively. I inhale deeply, filling my lungs to maximum capacity, and settle in close beside him on the couch. “It’s time to go to bed, honey,” I say in a calm, hushed tone. I place my hand under his elbow, lifting him off the coach. He darts for the staircase and pads up the steps. My feet ache, so I slowly follow behind.
As I approach the upper landing, I glance towards my son’s room. Darkness. Where did he go? I ask myself. The muscles in my shoulders tighten up.
He’s teasing you when he should be getting ready for bed, laughs the dark voice again.
I can do this, I reason. Come on, Damara, you know what to do. Don’t listen to that negative voice. I step into his room, “Andrew,” I call. Silence.
“Andrew, where are you?”
A quiet chuckle vibrates from behind his door, and a smiling face pops into sight.
Tell him off, pipes the dark voice.
Look at his smiling face. He thinks this is fun. Don’t crush him, I retort back.
I approach him, my lips slightly upturned, and say, “Andrew bedtime is not silly time. There are other times of day we can be silly, but bedtime is not one of them. I see you are having fun. Please go shower so you can get to bed.”
He walks to his dresser and pulls the top drawer open. He painstakingly looks at his pajamas. He is going to take forever! insists the negative voice. I slowly inhale again, filling every corner of my lungs with oxygen, and then I exhale. He picks a pair. Phew! My muscles relax.
He strolls to the shower. I am tempted to say, “Hurry up!” but I bite my tongue.
Crisis averted, I cheer inwardly. When I pay attention to the negative voice in my head, I often say something I regret. This has happened too often. I am so glad I kept it in check tonight, I think.
My mind flashes back to the scenes from the night before. When my son resisted, I listened to my negative inner voice. As my anger and frustration grew, my voice increased in volume. The result? My son dug in his heels—the Battle Royale had officially begun.
As I stood in my son’s room contemplating the stark difference between these two interactions, it was . . . shocking. I want more moments like tonight, I resolutely decide.
Since I resolved to improve bedtime in our home, I have found three adjustments in my parenting approach that have helped things go more smoothly:
Stay Close, Be Quiet, and Connect. Try saying this mantra over and over as a quick reminder when you’re tired and losing patience. (I like to shorten it to “close, quiet, connect.”) It is difficult for children to transition to bedtime. To communicate with our children, we need to first get close to them so they feel a connection. Being close helps us resist the urge to raise our voice. Then we can quietly tell them what they need to do. Placing a soft hand on them or giving them a quick, reassuring hug strengthens the connection. When children feel calmed, they cooperate more happily.
Remember Your Child’s Point of View. Life is an adventure to children. Try to remember this and view life from their perspective. Empathize with them so they know you understand how they feel. Say, “I see you are feeling silly, but this is not the time for it. You can be silly tomorrow.”
Teach the Value. Children need to understand the importance of sleep and how it recharges their bodies, helps them grow, and keeps them healthy. Possibly share a story about a child who had no energy to do the things he enjoyed because of his lack of sleep. Children love stories. Stories can help children understand things in a new way.
Bedtime can feel like World War III, but improving behavior starts with us—the parents. Our children will follow our lead. Remember the mantra, “Stay close, be quiet, and connect.” We can do it! I have found when I stay calm, ignore the negative voice in my head, and use these effective strategies, bedtime flows smoothly. Phew!
QUESTION: Do you notice the negative voice in your head? What is it saying? What difference does it make when you get close, stay quiet, and connect with your children?
CHALLENGE: Evaluate how you interact with your children at bedtime. Try a few of the suggestions listed here for one week and consider the results. How has bedtime improved? Have you found any other strategies that help your family?
Blog post: http://www.parentingbrilliantly.com/surviving-exhausting-bedtime-antics/
Edited by Katie Carter and Amanda Lewis.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally published March 22, 2016.
What to do think about laying down beside your child as he or she falls asleep cuddling them for a 1/2 hour or so till they are peacefully asleep at 7 years olds?
you will look back fondly on these memories of cuddling your children as they fall asleep when you are a mother of teenagers 😉
Damara Simmons says
Really great question Edwina! It is really your call if you spend 30 minutes with your child. If you have the time and you both enjoy it then great, if not change things up. One option is transitioning your child to cuddling with a stuffed animal. Enjoy your child, they grow so fast!
Love these ideas. Thanks!
Damara Simmons says
So glad you enjoyed it. I have had a number of moms put the Close, Quiet, Connect mantra to the test and they have all said how much it helps. Hope you give it a try and I would love to hear how it goes for you.
Hi thanks for the article. Just wondering if anyone out there has advice for my situation. Bedtime goes OK (about 8 pm for kids 9.30 or 10 for me and DH – I get up at 4am, DH at 5 and kids at 5.30 to be ready for work and school) Often my girls (aged 6 & 4) need me to stay with them a while till they settle and get sleepy but I’m totally fine with that. But after about 12pm it’s musical beds all night. By about 1 or 2 am both kids have been in and out of our bed several times. (The first time I try to put them back to bed and settle them but honestly after that I sometimes don’t even wake and they are so restless and the bed so crowded I usually leave the room to sleep elsewhere by 1 or 2 but can seldom get back to sleep with the result that I -and actually the whole family TBH – are chonically sleep deprived). This is starting to have long term health implications for me and is not ideal for our marriage either. Basically I’m a barely functional wreck in the mornings and again by late afternoon (the only time I see my family as I work outside the home all day) and DH is not far behind me – he really doesn’t do well with less sleep. Lots of other stuff going on too which I’m sure is contributing to my kids’ sleep disturbances (I know missing me is a factor because if I stay up late working everyone stays put in their beds until whatever time I go to bed) but I feel if everyone can just get a decent night’s sleep we may be better equipped to deal with life. Sorry for the “poor me” rant – Any advice?
Dear southafricanmama, the sleep deprivation probably IS your problem! Paradoxically, kids who don’t get enough sleep, sleep less and less well. I know early bedtimes can be hard in working/schooling homes, but getting those littles into bed ASAP (with a 5:30am wakeup, be thinking 6pm bedtime! Maybe earlier if there are no naps?). What I’ve seen work at this older age is moving the routine earlier in 15-30 min increments until you reach the desired time/the kids are sleeping better. Whatever you can do to streamline your evening (freezer cooking?) to maximize connection and efficiency while moving toward bed…the better. You might also talk to your doctor about using a tiny bit of melatonin (250 mcg?) while you reset their rhythms. (Melatonin has been used safely in studies of stock kids, hasn’t been tested on well kids, so isn’t usually recommended. It’s a potent and important hormone that shouldn’t just be played with BUT that may be helpful in the short term. I also know that opinions of it vary by country; in the usa you get it easily anywhere)
(You didn’t mention any daytime naps, so I’m guessing there aren’t any. If there are, adjust accordingly.)
Great book: healthy sleep habits, happy child by Marc Weissbluth. Geared for younger kids, but the last bit touches your ages.
Finally… You need to go to bed earlier, too! That may seem impossible and I totally get that. Maybe it will get easier if those littles get to bed earlier.
And Power of Moms, THANK YOU for this illustration. I feel like people avoid the topic of bedtime, but it’s definitely the time of day when it’s hardest for me to mother with patience and presence! These examples help immensely.
Thank you for your kind words and suggestions, SleepyMama. I know how much time and thought went into such a lengthy and well explained response and appreciate it so much. I know bedtime is the problem. We only walk in the front door at 5.30 or 6 pm so I’ll definitely have to look at tweaking our routine for an earlier bedtime.