This week, I’ve spoken to two frazzled Mums who were desperate for some ‘me’ time after their kids had gone to bed. That was not to be because they had spent most of their evening running up and down the stairs or negotiating bed time. Instead of tucking in their children like Mary Poppins and singing them a sweet lullaby to gently send them to snoozy land, they found themselves turning into a slightly deranged squawking parrot repeatedly asking them to ‘Go to sleep now!’
They can smell your desperation at 10 paces
Children are tuned in and can sense when you want to gallop down the stairs and put your feet up. This is not a conspiracy to stop you from opening the wine (but probably should be if that’s your way of winding down). Instead with our empathy heads on, we know that this is their last chance to be with you before they spent 12 hours sleeping. In their minds that means away from you. To add to that challenging mix of separation and fear, to get to sleep they have to be alone with themselves in the dark and for lots of us, that’s not easy.
So bedtime becomes a combination of unmet needs (theirs and yours) and a huge power struggle. Let’s have a look at that….
At the end of a long day, children are first of all tired as I’m sure we are and that is why we want to skip off down the stairs to freedom.
Lots of children are scared of the dark. Think about it – does your busy brain come to life at night time when the house is quiet? There is nothing else for you to think about is there? Children who worry about burglars breaking in or monsters under the bed have wonderful imaginations or big scary feelings that need a home to go to. This is what happens at night time, any residual feelings which they have stuffed into their emotional back packs during the day are stored there until it’s safe enough for them to come out. You are their safe space. Tucked up in bed with you there is often the time they emerge. They can and will come out sideways.
I expect depending on the day you’ve had and what’s on your radar will impact on how you respond to your child. This is why self-care is all part of your emotional housekeeping. I know I keep saying that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish but are you hearing me? Some much needed time without your kids can make a world of difference to how you feel.
The way you feel impacts on how you respond. The way you feel, impacts how your child responds. No pressure but they do tend to feed off you and follow your lead. All behaviours are driven by feelings so focus on those first.
Make it about quality time for both of you
Bed time is the perfect time to connect especially when you have been apart all day. So be prepared to invest time in connecting. Even if you need to bring the bedtime routine forward it’s not rushed, then do that. If you are new to connecting, start by reading my eBook ‘What Every Child Wants Every Parent To Know’ so you can work out your child’s love language and find your unique way of connecting.
You can minimise battles and stop going bananas by remembering to:-
Agree a bedtime routine beforehand
Make sure you communicate clearly to your child bedtime rules. So if bedtime rules state, in bed with teeth cleaned by 7.30pm and lights out by 8, then you can be flexible around what happens so long as you all stick to the rules. Encourage your child’s input as this will give them an element of control and help reduce power struggles. Talk about what works and what doesn’t work for them and for you. Listen and observe what your child is telling you. Refer to the rules when things go a little off piste.
Keep it calm for all of you
The road to Sleepysville is one without screens, sugar (stimulants) or shouting. If you want to play out your silliness or excitability by rough housing, you can do so before you go upstairs – not at bedtime because this will wake your child up! Laughter releases stress and feels good.I love a good boogie around the kitchen to Olly Murs.
Remind yourselves of bedtime boundaries
Your ultimate power tools are empathy and boundaries. Something like: I can tell this is hard for you (empathy) and you are tired (observation). It’s hard for you to relax. I’m going to help you by doing stroking your hair / holding your hand / being close by (offer choices). I will do this for five minutes and we’ll see how that feels. Shhhhh it’s bedtime now and time to close your eyes (re-direct / guide). Lower your voice and be close. Follow through on your five minutes.
Avoid power struggles by thinking differently
Recognise that any misbehaviour is a call for connection. It’s not personal – I know sometimes it feels like it is, but it really isn’t. it’s not a time to threaten or get into a power struggle. That never ends well at this time of the day (see above). You can read more about connection in my blog post Do As You Are Told! Have you fallen into the Obedience Trap?
Have a set routine and rituals
These act as signposts towards sleep and prepares your child to relax. It also helps children to make the transition and feel safe knowing what is coming next. How about:
- a relaxing and detoxing Epsom salts bath with some diluted essential oils like lavender
- a guided visualisation or body scan (breathing from your tummy relaxes the child into their body and releases chemicals which feel good / release anxiety). I have made a Smiley Sweet Dreams Bedtime Pack which shows you how to do that.
- use one of these techniques to positively ground your child’s energy
- Smiley Thought Cards to talk about the day or a different kind of bedtime story Nightlights: Stories for You to Read to Your Child – To Encourage Calm, Confidence and Creativity
- Help your child learn to recognise their own sleepy cues – ask them how they know that their body is ready for sleep and see what they say. Maybe they will say they feel floppy or they yawn and some children even tell me that their eyes sting. They must be super tired! Tell your child to pretend to go to sleep and shut their eyes. When children are babies they keep their eyes open until they drift off but we have to learn to go to sleep.
Help your child listen to their body
By paying attention and using the senses to relax
- Touch – how about gentle stroking or massaging to relax their body
- Sound – keep your voice low and slow, listen to soothing music or the downloads from my lovely Smiley’s Sweet Dreams Bedtime Pack
- Sight – keep the lighting dim and have comforting visuals like family photos, stuffed animals and visuals which help your child to feel safe. The ‘I am Safe and Protected’ Smiley Thought Card is a favourite here.
Be present and focus your attention on your child
if your mind is elsewhere your child will pick up on that and find all manner of ways to get you to notice them. If you find yourself feeling irritated or out of sorts, use your breathing to centre yourself. Tell yourself ‘there is nothing to say, be or do, just be with my child.’ Be in the moment.
Get out of your heads
If your child is a worrier or scared of the dark, they will easily feel their thinking. Make sure you help your child get into their physical body and out of their head. Once you get on the worry train it’s quite hard to get off. My Get Your Worries Out workshop and doing a quick gratitude check is great for focusing on the good stuff.
If your child is clingy or has separation anxiety
Sometimes this happens when there has been a major life change or death in the family. Make sure if you are affected by this change that you have the support you need. Remember your child is impacted by the way you feel and what you are carrying. In the instance of sudden separation anxiety, I would recommend that you lie down and be with them. You won’t have to do it forever. I think lots of us are scared of that (and want to fix it) but in this moment, your child is asking for your safe and comforting presence. If you stick to a routine and build confidence in your child’s ability to put themselves to sleep, they will get there.