Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bedtime Woes

Do you dread your child’s bedtime? Does your kiddo coerce you to lay in bed with him until he falls asleep (which takes 3 hours because he wills himself to stay awake)? Does she wake up eleventy times during the night, wanting each time to get in bed with you? Do you wake up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept (because you haven’t)?


I can only imagine how frustrated you are because I’m fairly certain I was that child for my parents. I used to make one of my parents sit by my bed until I fell asleep. Then, I would make myself stay awake because I thought, “Well, if I just stay awake, mom won’t leave because she said she stay until I’m asleep.” I literally have a memory of my father reading through the entire newspaper next to my bed. When I was a bit older, I used to make myself stay awake all night because I was so scared of being alone at night in my room. To this day, I have no idea why I was so scared. I ended up co-sleeping with my parents (much to their dismay) until I was about 10- and I think it lasted so long because I knew I was in charge of the situation and could manipulate it to my satisfaction.

Wanting to control a situation is extremely common in children, even very young ones. If we’re being honest, it’s common in people of all ages. I personally always recommend parents helping their children to feel in control of their world. I think about it in terms of trying to find a way to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’ (did you see my post on letting your child have control in appropriate ways?) For children especially, the things they want control over may seem silly or trivial, but, for many things, if it’s not hurting them or someone else, why not? Plus, letting them have control in lots of little situations often leads to less resistance when you need to control other situations.

Bedtime is no different:
  • Let her choose the jammies
  • Let him choose which bedtime story to read
  • Let her say goodnight to her toys
  • Let him choose a special stuffed animal to sleep with each night

So what about the problems after the lights are out? From a developmental point of view, many times, 'sleeping' problems in children have less to do with sleep and more to do with what we researchers call 'goodness of fit,' which is a fancy way of saying that there may be something(s) in his environment that doesn't work for him and it manifests in the form of a problem at bedtime. That is, the symptom of a bedtime problem may be due to something completely different than bedtime. (So, for example, a child may crave more 'mom' time during the day and acting out at bedtime is a way of getting that attention.)

Where the ‘goodness of fit’ for bedtime comes in is finding a solution that works for both of you- finding a compromise by which both parties are feeling like their needs are met. Some children may need to have a parent close to them while they’re sleeping, whether at the beginning of the night or after nighttime wakings. Try making a bed of blankets with a pillow at the end of mom and dad’s bed. During the night, if she wakes up, she can come sleep on that with the understanding that she must be quiet or else she goes back to her own room. This will fulfill her need of having a parent close by and also teach her to self-sooth. More importantly, it might give her a sense of control for handling this problem on her own.

Now, I completely expect her to violate the ‘quiet’ rule a few (or many) times. I would attempt to battle that with the following: take her back to her bed and tell her she can come back to the pallet when she is ready, but the quiet rule still applies.

Here are some other ideas:
  • Routine. Routine. Routine. Have one. Stick to it.
  • Bedtime checklist. Not a reward chart, just a checklist, so that your kiddo knows exactly what to expect each night. Checking bedtime tasks (tooth brushing, bath, etc) will help her feel more in control.
  • Hear what she’s saying. Be there for her, but help her regulate. “I hear that you don’t want to go to bed. Can I snuggle next to you to help you feel better or can you work it out on your own?”
  • Bedtime guidelines like talking in a whisper or a soft voice for 30 minutes before bed will help him ‘put on the brakes’ and calm down.

Good luck, parents, as you battle bedtime. As in all matters child, I know that it is easier said than done. I hope that this provides some help and insight.


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