Bedtime is the hardest time of day. Have you ever looked at the clock, realized you only have 6 hours until it’s time to get up and still you decide to open Facebook?
We know it’s a bad idea, but still we do it. Why?
The days we do this are the days we’re letting ourselves know we don’t feel supported or loved enough. These are the days when we feel just a little sad or lonely at the end of the day.
Bedtime is a Big deal
This is especially true for children. Bedtime is a big deal. This is the time of day when all the emotions from the day pour out of them. This is when our children realize the day they just had was hard – bedtime means a whole other day is looming over them. Maybe it’ll be just as hard as today.
Children don’t have the words to communicate these feelings with us. When we say it’s bedtime, they say, “I’m thirsty!” Or they run around, or hide. They may scream or cry. There are so many ways these emotions bubble out of children.
What’s universally the same is how we parents feel about it. We just want them to go to sleep. We want our own time. We want them to go to sleep without a fight.
So how do we get from fighting to sleeping?
From Fighting to Sleeping
One of the biggest reasons children, and adults too, fight bedtime is because we didn’t get enough connection during the day. Maybe we fought with out partner, maybe we were upset and our partner didn’t respond empathetically. For children connection is even more important than it is for adults.
Adults already have some tools for coping with stress, disappointment, and disagreements with others. But children have few resources or skills to help them through difficult times. If we help our children develop these skills, they’ll carry them into adulthood as well.
First you need to connect. This will be different for each child, but generally big active play works best. Yep, you read that right! I do suggest getting kids amped up and active right before you want them to go to sleep.
Not all activity is created equal!
There’s a very specific requirement for any before bed activity. It needs to be with you and it needs to be happy. If the play results in you getting punched in the face by accident, shrug it off (Yes, this has happened to me – there are other times you can teach your children about paying attention – this isn’t that time), believe they didn’t intend to hit you, move on.
This moment is all about your child feeling 100% loved by you. Maybe you have a child that loves to play fortnight. This is when you’d ask to play it with them. Ask them to teach you. If your child loves Pokémon, play a game together – go on a pokewalk. The specifics will be different for each family. The important thing isn’t what you do, but the way you both feel during this time.
When a child feels secure in their attachment with their parents, they’re able to go to sleep easier. That’s why reconnecting right before bed is so important.
What if bedtimes been really hard for a long time. What if your your child can’t even manage to get their pyjamas on without a fight?
Then before you begin connecting, get their pyjamas ready, put toothpaste on their toothbrush, get as much ready for bed as possible for them before you begin connecting.
If your child needs to choose which pyjamas they’ll wear, get 2 pairs ready and let them choose when it’s time.
As your connection time is winding down, let them know you’ve already gotten their toothbrush and jammies ready and if they can get ready for bed quickly, you’d really like it if they played with you for a few more minutes before they lay down. This lets them know their time with you isn’t over, just paused. It provides the best reward possible for getting ready for bed.
When you’re done playing and it is time for them to go to bed, thank them for playing with you, and let them know you had a lot of fun with them. Let them know you’d like to do it again the next night.
Ways to Play
Some games we play:
Tag around the kitchen. This one is especially fun if you have a small child you can carry. A grown-up carries the smaller child and chases the larger child (or other adult). When they catch the other, ‘pop’ the smaller child up in the air, spin and run away. There should be lots of squeals and giggles. As we run from he older child we often turn so the smaller child can see, I usually ‘pop’ the smaller one up and squeal each time – really heighten the excitement level of the game. Be big, boisterous, and amp up the fun.
Fighting. We usually do this when the kiddos have been dealing with a lot of stuff and are very emotional. We lay ground rules first – the point is not to hurt anyone, but if it happens, we’ll hug and make sure everyone is okay. Children are ONLY allowed to attack adults, never each other! We set a 1 min timer on repeat. For 1 minute I fight one child. When the timer rings, I switch who I fight.
Socks. Everybody puts socks on and sits on the floor. We each need to get someone else’s socks off. Ground rules – you can’t pull socks off of someone who’s standing up. You can only stand up if you need to move outside the circle for a break.
When we’re so stressed about getting our children to sleep, we want a solution that works right NOW! Unfortunately nothing works that fast. The good news is even though this will take a few days (or weeks if things are really difficult) once your children feel a more solid connection with you, they’ll be able to use those tools to help themselves settle on their own. In our family we still use big play about once a month to keep our connections strong.
I think it’s also important to mention, this should only be one way you connect with your children in a day. It might be the biggest way to connect, but should not be the only way.