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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The bedtime battle

Before you start reading this post. I just want to say that I am not an expert at getting my children to sleep at night. This post has come from almost 17 years of practice... I could say more time than that, if you count the care of my nieces and nephews and various nanny jobs I experienced before having my own children.
I have tried... I feel like.."everything!" I feel as if I have been sent back to war over and over again with no signs of peace.

"The bedtime battle"... All of us mothers know this title too well. I have yet to meet a mother that has not had the bedtime battle at one time or another. Whether its starting with infancy or  a teenager. The go to sleep battle is on.

 As a mother of 4 kids I have had many many bedtime battles over the years. I've even had to argue not only with my kids, but with my husband about bedtime. Not with his bedtime, but about the decisions of what should constitute a reasonable bedtime. It seems that this battle has caused way too much stress in my life.

 When my children were babies I believed in the natural method. When a baby is tired he/she will sleep. When a baby is hungry he/she will eat. If a baby is upset, do the checklist.....
1. Is the baby hungry?
2. Does the baby have a dirty diaper?
3. Is the baby tired?
4. Does the baby want attention? (or is the baby just bored?)

When you think about it, an older child has all these same needs. Well.. except maybe the dirty for an older child number 2 would be.."Did someone hurt their feelings?" Or.." Did her sister wear her shirt today without asking?"

When an older child  is upset it could very easily be one of the four questions on the checklist. I notice with my children that number 4 happens a lot. So when they are upset that is the first thing I think about. I sit down and talk with my child and ask if they need anything. With my six year old its usually something like, "I want you to read with me, or I want you to play a board game with me." My older children usually say, (while being ultra dramatic)..."You never spend time with me anymore !" When this happens, I know that its time for some one on one time with that particular child. With my teenage girls I take them out to a movie, dinner or shopping. For my son it is just playing a game together or going on a walk. I know with my youngest its just playing some toys with her, going to the park, doing an art project together,or reading to her.

Sometimes just getting your children involved in something like making dinner with you, or working on the garden together soothes the soul of a child. You would be surprised how quickly your child will relax and be happy when they can just be involved with something you are doing. They just may need mom or dad time.

So this leads me back to the bedtime battle. Finally, by my fourth child I think I have figured it out. Although maybe I shouldn't say that out loud because it could change in an instant. Though this is the point of natural parenting. Taking the child's cues to figure out how to resolve a contention or puzzle. Or in some cases, a controversy.  My first choice, and what seems to be working now for my six year old, is a routine.

 With a routine, even when you have missed the bedtime because you were out visiting friends, or its a weekend and you are letting your child stay up a little later. When you have a routine in place, let's say...for example: Have a snack, brush teeth, get jammies on, read a book together...then its time to go to sleep. You can follow this no matter what time it is, and its the routine that lulls the child to sleep. Well besides letting your child know that there is no other option. I have noticed that if I don't stick to the routine with my six year old daughter, there I am... fighting with her to go to sleep. She has gotten to a point now that she looks forward to our time together to read, or just for me to simply tuck her in. This is giving her that special attention she needs. Remember it may take a few times for a routine to work. Don't expect it to work like magic on the first night you try it. Be patient and give it a week. I know we all love our children, nevertheless you could be getting that precious evening hours time to yourself sooner than later, if you stick with it. You may even be able to spend some time alone with your husband. Imagine that ..:)

So I know, there is the question ..."Well what if this doesn't work?"  My answer would be then go back to the 4 questions you ask for a baby or child's needs. Run down the list and try answering them and taking action.

Ok, so what if these don't work and let's say your child just won't listen to you or you have tried them all and he or she is just refusing to go to bed and screaming "its not fair"...etc...etc...?? (I know most parents can fill in the blank for etc..etc..)

Then I turn to the Love and Logic model.
Tell them .."fine..You can stay awake all night if you want, as long as you stay in your room". Then let them stay up.  Get them up for school in the morning. If they complain they are too tired to go to school, remind them, that they have to go to school and it is their job. After a few days of this, (or sometimes it only takes one day) they usually find it easy to go to bed when you ask.

They have suffered the (yes.. there's that word again) "natural" consequences.

Another reminder: Children change all the time. So when something has been working for a long time and it suddenly doesn't work anymore. Please don't expect it to suddenly work again.You need to be flexible and change it up a bit. Try some new techniques you may be surprised how well this may work. You may surprise your child as well, with something they don't expect. Your good nights sleep could be closer than you think.


Mom said...

I think you hit on the answer..when you said routine. It was the only thing that worked with you. Children like to know what to expect. Also sometimes you need to remove things from their room that stops them from going to sleep. Examples are phones, computers, kindles and tv's. A child's room should be set up for sleeping not playing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a routine has always been my answer. Worked pretty darn good too. Keep it simple with minimal material items so you can get them to sleep in anyone's home when plans suddenly change.
As for giving each child their own special time, a friend told me of a great idea. Each child gets special time on the day of the month they were born. Say one child was born on the 12th of May, every month on the 12th is that child's special time. Hopefully each child was born on a different day, if not be creative. K