Today is your day!
TO REGAINING CONTROL
OF YOUR CHILD'S BEDTIME
Let me guess, you try so hard to make bedtime a quick, easy, and happy part of the day, you have great intentions every night going into your kiddo's bedtime routine, you may even make a plan to get yourself all hyped up and ready to rock bedtime. And then your child somehow figures out how to make you so desperate for him or her to go to sleep that you end up just going along with whatever your kiddo is demanding (or that you bribe him or her with). All of your hopes, plans, intentions all go out the window.
Deep breath. If this sounds like you, you are certainly not alone. This is one the the biggest frustrations I hear from parents of toddlers and preschoolers. You might be surprised to hear that one of the biggest downsides of giving-in at bedtime, in addition to feeling frustrated, ending the day with reprimands, losing your night to a long/drawn-out/child-lead bedtime routine, is that it can also affect overnight sleep. Research has shown us over and over that consistent bedtime routines that end in a child falling asleep independently is the biggest predictors of uninterrupted sleep overnight.
Here's the good news. The first step to regaining control of your child's bedtime routine is setting some boundaries. And although setting boundaries can be challenging, it is within your control. Think of a boundary as the four sides of a box. The sides of the box are the limits, the furthest you are willing to compromise in a certain situation. There can be lots of freedom, movement, compromise inside the box. But the limits of the situation end at the walls of the box. In situations where you feel out of control, boundaries are critical. I am going to walk you through how to determine what boundaries need to be set, and how to begin implementing them.
Cheers to a quick, easy, and happy bedtime routine!
I know just as well as you do, that at the end of the day, when the kids are finally in bed, there is no energy left. Not for yourself, not for your partner, and most certainly not for important decision making. This is why it is important to be intentional and plan time to sit down with your partner to discuss changes that need to be made. You know your relationship best. Should you wake up 20 min early and have a coffee date to chat? Go for a walk over lunch while the kids are at school? Talk on the phone during a daily commute? Or maybe you are both night owls and so you forgo watching your regular show one night for a conversation on the couch snuggled in a blanket while the kids are in bed may be best. Choose a time where you can both give your energy and attention to talking about the kids and frustrating topics. Let your partner know you will be talking about this so he or she can mentally prepare. And then put it on the calendar.
Talking Points (for your talking date with your partner)
What is frustrating you most right now about your child's bedtime routine?
What part of the bedtime routine do you dread?
Is there something that seems to cause challenges on a regular basis?
What would you say is currently the hardest part of parenting?
Is there something that occurs before bedtime or during the day that you think may be affecting your bedtime routine (dinner, screens, activities, timing)?
Would making changes to any of these challenges improve happiness, health, peace, mood in your home?
What is the #1 change you feel needs to be made?
Once you determine your biggest pain point, and you decide your family could benefit from boundaries being set, we must determine the appropriate boundary. When choosing a boundary, it should always meet 3 criteria...
In the best interest of your child
I am going to share an example of a boundary that would not be appropriate, even though it may feel like your family would benefit from it. You have a 3 year old who goes to bed at an appropriate time, sleeps well throughout the night, but wakes every morning at 545AM wide eyed and ready to go. 545AM feels very early to both you and your partner. You decide that 7AM is the time you want your family to start your day. You get your kiddo an OK-to-Wake clock and set it to 7AM. You tell him if he wakes before 7AM he can get out of bed, but must play quietly in his room until his light turns green at 7AM. While this may seem reasonable, it does not meet the 3 criteria. First, it is unreasonable to expect a 3 year old to play independently in his room for 1+ hours (really waiting for more than 10-15 is challenging at this age). Second, it isn't in your child's best interest, it is in your best interest. He is well rested, he is just an early riser. It isn't helping your child achieve anything that will make him healthier or happier. Third, it isn't necessarily kind. If your child has the temperament to keep himself occupied for 1+ hrs each morning, then this may be fine. However this is challenging for most 3 year olds, and really is setting them up for failure.
In this situation, instead of waiting until the Ok-to-Wake clock turns green at 7AM, set the clock to 545AM, a time your child wakes and is rested on a regular basis, and ask your child to stay in bed until the clock turns green at 545AM. It lets him know that any time before this is too early. It lets him feel accomplished for staying in bed all night long until it is wake up time. And it is consistent. And since you and your partner don't prefer to wake that early, ask your kiddo for ideas on what he can do while mommy and daddy sleep a bit longer. Maybe this is a good time for screen time/watching a few shows? Maybe reading books quietly in your room next to your bed? Maybe quietly playing with toys in the play room? Maybe you and your partner alternate who wakes up at 545AM, and whoever is "on duty" gets up while the other parent sleeps in. The best choice for your family will vary depending on you and your child's personality, but these are just a few ideas.
Okay, you now have a challenge you feel needs a boundary, you feel rock solid with the boundary you have chosen. What's next? Do you just implement it the next day? Talk to the kids about it ahead of time? Tell them in the moment?
It is best to talk to your kiddos about the boundary before you begin implementing it. When and how you discuss this will depend on the age and developmental level of your child. Younger children will benefit from talking about boundaries in the moment, older children will do better knowing about it further ahead of time.
When you discuss the boundary, be sure to keep the conversation positive. Talk about what you are hoping to achieve with the new boundary. Be sure they know this is not a punishment, but a way to achieve your goals.
I'll give you an example of a challenge we recently did in our family (although it isn't a bedtime/sleep situation, this could be for some families who want to take screens out of the bedtime routine) ... no screen time for a week.
Must husband and I decided the kids needed a break from screens. I told them at dinner one evening that we decided we were going to take a break from screens for the week. That this was not a punishment. But that we felt we all needed to learn how to be inside our body and our head and our hearts without the TV to distract us or occupy us. Throughout the week, when the kids challenged why we had to do this, I made sure to focus on our goal. I kept it positive. I did not talk about how they have been watching too much TV, how they were grumpy after watching TV, or how they weren't spending enough time playing. I focused on our goal which was being inside our body, our head, our hearts without the TV to occupy us.
Once you tell the kiddos about the new boundary, it is super important to move right into something they can control. Kids have an extremely strong drive for independence. Play into that by giving them some control and decision making power. You have set the outer limits for the boundary. What room is there inside those limits for their creativity, independence, decision making?
Going back to the no-screen-time challenge, I made sure to ask the kiddos for ideas on how they wanted to spend their mornings before school. What were some ideas on what they would do when they got home from school? What should we do on the weekend?
When we completed the 1-week challenge, we did re-evaluate our screen time boundaries. My husband and I had screen time boundaries in mind that we wanted to put in place. But instead of telling the kids exactly how it would go, I actually asked for their suggestions. I asked what they thought would be a good idea for our family. Their ideas were pretty spot on with ours, but I was prepared to guide them to that decision together if needed. Asking for their input has lead to much greater cooperation with the new boundary moving forward.
Here is where the hard work comes in. Your child will certainly push back and test your new boundaries. He must. It is his job to see how he can influence the world around him. He's got to see what control or influence he has on the situation. Depending on his temperament, his testing may be short and mild, or a full on battle. Either way, have a plan in place about how you will handle any pushback. This part of the plan is critical. You must know ahead of time how you will handle challenging moments to ensure you will be consistent with your boundaries and follow through... especially during the first 3 days.
Finally, lean on your partner. Be there for one another. Support each other. Let your kiddo know you are a team and you both have the same stance. The two of you supporting each other will not only help your kiddo get on board with the plan sooner, but will also be a great example of love and kindness and teamwork between you and your partner.