If your kids are protesting your nighttime routines – asking for more books, an additional song, four more hugs, two more kisses.. I am right there with you. My kids do all these things too.
Do we have bad kids? NOPE! Is it that our kids are manipulating us? NOPE, that’s not it either! So what is going on? Well… Sleep is hard.
Sleep is separation – kids have to separate at night and be apart from their parents, in the dark, for hours. Kids are full of fear and worry and a desire to stay close to their parents who offer a feeling of safety.
And, by nighttime, now more than ever, we are DONE. Or, well, I know I am. When I say “Goodnight!”, I think I really mean either “PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!” or “Yessssss, I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.”
If you think these things too, you are not a bad parent. You – like me – are perfectly human.
Here’s one thing that’s key for bedtime: We need to keep the bedtime routine consistent. We have to do what we say we are going to do. Our kids can smell our ambivalence and take it in as uncertainty, which increases their anxiety around sleep. Then they protest more – not to manipulate us, but because now their bodies actually feel less safe because they don’t feel they have a sturdy, warm leader.
If we say we are doing two books, that has to mean two books – not three or four. Holding this boundary becomes easier when we realize we can simultaneously empathize with our kids’ experience – in fact, boundary consistency + empathy go hand in hand.
Try This at Home:
When your child protests, stay firm AND warm. Hold your boundary AND see their experience. Here’s an example … feel free to borrow these words and use them in your own home:
“Mom pleeeeease one more book, please please please, just one short one!”
“Book time is over tonight.” (boundary, directness, no ambivalence)
“I can take a book with me so we remember to read it together right away in the morning.” (transitional object of sorts)
“I know bedtime is hard sweetie. I get it.” (empathy)
“I am going to start singing your bedtime song now” (moving on with the bedtime routine, again, holding boundary and no ambivalence)