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?
Edited by Katie Carter and Amanda Lewis.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally published March 22, 2016.