July 27th, 2022
Bedtime is stressful for a lot of families. You’re tired, your child is tired – it’s not the best time to try to aim for parent of the year. ? Keeping a few things in mind about what’s going on behind the scenes for your child can go a long way. Bedtime isn’t rough because your child is dreading sleep, it’s because they are dreading separation. Separation from those we love and are attached to is the most dreaded human experience. Think about death – the fear people have about death isn’t really about death, no one knows what death is like. It’s the ultimate separation of death that scares the pants off ya. Own these 5 tips and bedtime is sure to come easier for the whole family.
1. Focus on connection before bedtime. Even if you stay with your child until they doze off, they know the separation is coming, and this can be distracting and overstimulating. If you head into bedtime with your child’s connection cup already full, they are less likely to drag out bedtime because they feel the need to connect.
It’s normal and understandable to feel at the end of your rope at the end of the day, especially on days when you and your child have been pushing each other’s buttons, or feeling frustrated for whatever reason.
There’s an instinct humans have, called counterwill. This is a survival mechanism to resist those you aren’t feeling connected to. In other words, if you try to tackle bedtime from a disconnected place, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt and a very long bedtime, as your child will resist all efforts to put them to sleep.
The easiest way to connect – play and laugh together. Put away all the distractions, get on your child’s level, engross yourself in the moment, and play your heart out. First comes eye contact, then once you have laughter, connection is in the bag. ✅
2. Build a routine the whole family looks forward to. A routine that the whole family can relax into, is a beautiful thing! Now, before you can get to the routine, you have to transition to the routine. When your child is immersed in play, the last thing they want is to be pulled away from it to get in the bath, or get in bed.
Making this transition playful itself can make the transition much smoother. You can ask your child if they want to skip, or slither like a snake to the bathroom. You can have a fun bathtime song that signals it’s time to head to the bathroom. Giving your child several heads up that bathtime is imminent is immensely helpful. Remember to keep it light-hearted and playful, in order for your child to follow your lead, they need to feel connected to you.
Now onto the routine. There are endless components of a bedtime routine. There may be some parts that don’t happen every night, like a bath. And there may be parts like reading books and snuggling that happen no matter what. Choose components that are special to your family, and aim to order events so that they become more calm and relaxed as you progress through the routine.
Predictability is key here. If your child can seamlessly flow through the routine without having to think about what’s next, sleep will come easier too.
3. Don’t obsess over the clock. An off night here and there is normal. But when your child is regularly taking longer to fall asleep, which may lead to frustration on your part – it could be time to start bedtime a little later. Experiment with the timing a little bit, and see if you can find a new sweet spot. If the actual falling asleep part of the routine is taking longer than 30 minutes, experimenting with time is likely a good idea!
4. Slooooooooow down and surrender to the present moment. Sometimes we can be so focused on the end result of bedtime (sleep), that we are in our head and not in the moment with our child. This is completely understandable, most parents very much look forward to the time they have to themselves while their child is sleeping – but this can backfire…
Our children depend on the mature part of our brain to regulate their immature brain. If we’re feeling anxious because we want bedtime to be over, our children are going to feel anxious too, which will make falling asleep more difficult.
5. When things aren’t going smoothly, choose love. When all attempts to settle down fail, when you and your child are frustrated. Choose love. Tell your child how much you love them, kiss them until you run out of breath, talk about your favorite things to do together.
If your child is upset, and this is the reason you are frustrated, simply be with them as a safe place for whatever they are feeling.
Sometimes emotions get backed up during the day and a cozy bedtime with you is just what they needed to let it all out. Surrender. Remind yourself that this is important work you are doing, you are always the answer they need. As a mature adult you have the choice to choose love and patience, even when they don’t seem to deserve it. These are the moments, this is the magic; this is how they develop the skills to grow into a loving, mature, compassionate, independent adult. You have to be one first.
Bedtime is hard, but only if you choose to see it that way. You always have a choice.