Whether you have one child or four, bedtime can be hard, that’s for sure.
Everyone is usually exhausted at the end of a long day and despite best intentions, you might find yourself being snappy or feeling like you’re not in control. You don’t want to feel this way but tired kids naturally have a habit of pushing parental buttons. On top of this, exhausted parents can be easily triggered and then things can quickly turn into chaos. The good thing is, if you work on the following nine strategies, you will find bedtime (and other parenting moments) easy. It will be a lot less stressful and even enjoyable!
Nine Key Strategies
1. Educate yourself about your child’s stage of development.
This will help you understand why your child is exhibiting certain behaviours.
Read reliable publications.
Listen to podcasts/audiobooks.
Talk to your health professional and ask questions.
2. Think ahead and prepare for bedtime in advance.
This will make bedtime easier and help reduce stress for you and your child.
Have PJ’s and books chosen and ready.
Have a sippy cup of water beside the bed.
Allow your child to choose one or two soft toys to take to bed.
3. Establish bedtime boundaries.
This will help your child feel safe and sleep well, knowing you are in control.
Decide on your boundaries around sleep and put them on a visual chart.
Tell your child what you want him to do (not what you don’t want him to do).
Use positive strategies such as role play, to teach your child what bedtime will ‘look like’.
4. Be clear and consistent with your rules and consequences.
Your child will thrive on the routine and will settle more quickly.
Ensure you and your partner (if applicable) are united.
Have a plan, follow through and do what you say you’ll do.
Talk less and don’t raise your voice.
5. Have realistic expectations and be prepared.
This ensures there are no unexpected surprises.
Be prepared for your child to stall at bedtime.
Your child might cry and scream in protest, as you make changes.
Expect that your child might test your boundaries and pull on your heartstrings.
6. Give yourself a break and put yourself first.
This will help you have the strength and conviction to stick to your boundaries and stay consistent.
Say yes to other people who offer their help or simply ask others for help.
Get a baby sitter every now and then, so you can go out.
Finish that phone call or read that magazine. Your child can wait.
7. Practice relaxation techniques.
This will help you to stay calm if bedtime is a struggle.
Learn and practice deep breathing techniques or meditation.
Practice closing your eyes and using imagery to help yourself stay calm.
Learn how to stretch your muscles to relieve tension.
8. Aim to get enough sleep for yourself.
This will help you to feel healthy and you’ll cope better at the end of a long day.
Get outdoors during the day to exercise and soak up the sunlight.
Go to bed earlier and wind down with a book, some music or meditation.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before your own bedtime.
9. Seek professional help if necessary.
This means accepting that you might need help to get ‘unstuck’.
Talk to your GP or child health nurse.
Ask trusted friends and family for advice.
Enlist the help of a sleep or behaviour consultant/coach.
Putting it into practice
Some of these strategies overlap and they are not mutually exclusive. For example, learning relaxation techniques might help you with your own sleep and taking time to relax means you are looking after yourself and giving yourself a break. Likewise, establishing bedtime boundaries and being consistent with rules and consequences are also interconnected. Despite this, you can still work on and practice each strategy individually so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed.
To help you get started, let’s look at strategy nine as an example: “Practice relaxation techniques”.
This particular strategy will take some time but it’s a skill well worth mastering. This is because children are experts at sensing parental unease, frustration or anxiety. Parents who are not in control of their own emotions can make kids feel unsafe and less likely to comply with parental requests. It can be understandably hard to feel calm and relaxed when your kids are crying, jumping out of bed for the umpteenth time or resisting sleep in general. Despite this, staying calm and acting confident, even if you don’t feel it deep down, is key.
Once you have your child safely in their room at bedtime, you can calm yourself with a relaxation technique that puts focus on your breathing. You can practice this either in your child’s presence or if you need to, give yourself permission to leave the room for a few minutes. ‘Box breathing’ is one example of a relaxation strategy that you can learn which might help you stay calm at bedtime or in any other stressful situation. Watch this video and learn how (courtesy of Sunnybrook hospital): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEmt1Znux58
DEVELOP YOUR GAME PLAN
Note that each strategies listed will take time and effort to learn in themselves. They are not easy to achieve or a quick fix. This is why breaking things down into smaller, bite sized chunks can really help. To do this, you could have a ten-week plan where each week you have a new focus or goal towards a more peaceful bedtime for your child. Think about how you will measure your success for the week. For example, if your goal for week one is strategy six, “Focus on a predictable bedtime routine”, your plan for week one might look something like this:
Step 1. Decide on the steps you will include in your bedtime routine. It’s a good idea to have your child involved in the process.
Step 2. Create a bedtime routine chart which will act as a visual cue for your child. Display this in your child’s room.
Step 3. Reinforce the routine by role playing the steps in the routine with your child and a favourite soft toy or doll.
Step 4. Practice following the routine with your child, every night. Your child can check off each step on the chart as he goes. Stay consistent.
Step 5. Evaluate the effectiveness of your routine. You can quantify this by reflecting on whether it has helped your child to relax more at bedtime, go to sleep more quickly and/or sleep better overnight.
Note: Repeat this planning process for each of the key strategies listed, one week per strategy.
CONNECTION, NOT CHAOS
If you feel your bedtime is out of control, don’t despair! With some forward planning and a bit of work, you can turn things around. Bedtime can and should be a time of connection rather than chaos. It’s the time of day where you can be fully present with your child and enjoy each other’s company. You can chat about the day or what’s on tomorrow. You might play a game, read a story or two and have some snuggles. Afterwards, you can leave the room and have some much needed ‘me time’ at the end of the day. You will be happy in the knowledge that bedtime was enjoyable and no fuss. It’s all possible! It starts with consciously making the decision to change things if you need to, having a plan and then following through.
If you need help to get unstuck, reach out to Tori: CLICK HERE