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Banishing bedtime blues

Is bedtime a struggle for your kids? Chick Moorman, author of Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Child In Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility, offers some advice!

When kids won’t go to bed

“My son won’t go to bed at night without a struggle. He keeps getting up with all kinds of excuses. It doesn’t seem to matter what we tell him. Nothing works. What do you recommend?”

That was the question that was posed by a concerned parent in the middle of a fifteen-minute question and answer period following one of my Parent Talk System presentations. I knew a five-minute response to this important question was inadequate. Yet, I offered advice anyway. I don’t recall my exact answer. I think I mumbled something about consistency and the need to keep to a schedule. I’m sure I suggested returning the child to the bedroom as many times as he vacated it. I’m sure my words were not very helpful or comforting.

Later, as I thought about the bedtime issue and talked with friends, I realized there was no way I could give a quick answer to this complicated situation. There are too many variables, too many reasons for getting out of bed, too many possible solutions to this problem.

Routine is vital

One answer is to create a bedtime routine, an evening ritual that remains consistent. This ritual could include a 10-minute warning, dirty clothes in the hamper, bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, stories, prayer, hugs and kisses. Routine provides security. When the routine is repeated with consistency both you and the child begin to rely on it. Everyone knows and can anticipate what comes next. Each step follows the previous one, every time.

When there is no set routine, bedtime is easier to resist. There is no expectation of what happens next. There is no order of events to fall back on. The evening becomes too open ended, too open to interpretation, too subject to change.

If you have an ongoing bedtime ritual, and your child still resists staying in her bedroom, ask yourself, “What is it that she needs? What is she trying to get? What does she want to accomplish? Invest some time figuring out what is that she really wants. For some kids getting out of bed is related to fear. The may have just had a nightmare or remember one from the evening before. Perhaps they are scared of the dark or of being alone. Perhaps they feel insecure when you are out of sight.

If fear is the issue, asks your child, “What would help you feel safer?” Tell them that one of your main roles as a parent is to help them feel safe. Create a plan together. This could be turning on a fan if they are afraid of noises or turning on a light if they are afraid of the dark. Leave the door open if they are insecure or provide a comforting teddy bear to increase feelings of security. Perhaps you could allow the family dog to sleep in your child’s room. One parent agreed to check on the child every half hour, “So you’ll know I’m here,” he told his daughter.

One woman I know had a child who was afraid of monsters. The solution? She filled an old window cleaner bottle with water and labeled it “Monster Spray.” “This will rid your room of any old monster,” she told her child, “and send it back to its own mommy and daddy.” The “Monster Spray” sat on a bedside table to provide constant reassurance.

Another need that children have is to get in on the action. When exciting things or perceived exciting things are going on downstairs, who would want to stay in bed? They may hear you laughing, talking on the phone, or watching TV. They don’t want to miss any of the good stuff.

If this is the case make sure the “good stuff” is not so good. Turn off the TV. Do something quiet for a few moments. Or invite your child to join you in doing the dishes, scrubbing the kitchen floor, or bringing in firewood. Tell your child, “Son, when you’re up I do things with you. When you go to bed, I have to get my work done. That’s when I do a lot of grown up stuff. You’re welcome to join me if you want to, but you’ll have to help. Tonight I’m folding laundry. Come on, join in.”

Not ready to wind down

Another reason children resist bedtime is that they are not tired yet. Their brains may still be racing at breakneck speed. A routine that helps they wind down is helpful here. It might be that your child needs a later bedtime. Perhaps its time to eliminate that afternoon nap. Without a nap, evening tiredness descends more quickly. It could be that you are letting your child sleep in too late in the morning. Of course he isn’t ready for bed if he slept in until 10 am . It’s a lot easier to get kids up than it is to get them to sleep.

If your child keeps getting up in need of a drink, add drinking to the regular bedtime routine. Provide a special cup that stays in their room. If they get thirsty during the night they can use that cup to get themselves a drink. From there, they go directly back to bed.

Remember, the goal with bedtime problems is containment. The idea is to contain the child in the bedroom. Create a safe place and keep returning the child to that safe place. Use the broken record technique if you have to. Broken record is where you keep repeating the same sentence over and over as if you were a broken record.

“I know you’d like to stay up. It’s time for you to be in your bed.” “Just five more minutes, please?”

“I know you’d like to stay up. It’s time for you to be in your bed.”

“I’m not tired.”

“I know you’d like to stay up. It’s time for you to be in your bed.”

If you want to banish the bedtime blues you will have to invest time and energy to do so. There is no quick fix, no simple answer, no solution that works for every child in every situation. Hang in there. Stay consistent. And remember, this too shall pass.

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