The Art of Parenting: Bedtime

Sure, science can inform parenting, but a huge proportion is pure art.  What are the personalities of all involved?  What is your parenting philosophy?   How does your household work?  We all just feel our way with most parenting decisions.

I’ve got a three year old and an eight year old, and I’m usually putting them to bed by myself.  How does one accomplish such a thing?  One thing I learned quickly was “Cooperate in getting ready so I can put you to bed” is the worst gambit since, “Tell us what we want and we’ll burn your house down.”  Rare is the child who looks forward to going to bed.  So of course they resist, dawdle, and attempt to work up some adrenaline so they won’t have to go to sleep.

My three year old in particular is tough.  She is very physical, and instead of getting sleepy when she’s tired, she revs up, becoming what my husband calls “untired.”  She becomes a manic superball, bouncing off everything in sight and giggling maniacally.  She also hates the idea of bedtime, so she will refuse to cooperate with pajamas, brushing teeth, and so forth.  If I try to read books with her, she gets up and runs in a circle, ignoring me with all her might.

Finally, I decided Mary Poppins was right, and I needed a spoonful of sugar.  Here’s our new routine.  About an hour and a half before Target Unconsciousness Commencement, we go upstairs.  Claire needs to try to pee, let me brush her teeth, floss, and use fluoride.  She has to cooperate with diaper and pajamas.  Then we turn the lights out, snuggle on the couch and watch a show of her choosing.  If she doesn’t cooperate in getting ready, she loses minutes off the show.  If she tries to get up and run around like a cracked-up jackrabbit, I fast-forward the show.  This has finally, finally gotten her to sit still long enough for her to start feeling sleepy.  It also gives me great leverage to get her cooperation in getting ready for bed.

Since we established this routine, she typically cooperates happily.  When the show is over, she likes to turn off the TV, then she picks out a book for us to read in her room.  By then she’s settled enough to sit still and pay attention.  We like to play a game: I pretend that I want to turn out the light, but I’m really incompetent in getting over to it, and she beats me to the switch and turns it out herself.  We nurse and snuggle and sing a lullaby.  These days I usually just stay till she falls asleep, because it only takes about 5-10 minutes after all that setup!

Meanwhile, Chloe can get herself ready while I deal with Claire, and when I take Claire into her room, Chloe gets her turn to start watching a show.  When I come out, we finish watching together.  Hopefully someday Claire will be as easy as Chloe, but for now our (admittedly somewhat lengthy) routine is really working.  I would much rather invest time than endure stress and struggles.

How do you make sure bedtime goes smoothly at your house?

(Fridays we’ll talk about tips and tricks that have worked for our kids.  Clever ideas and novel approaches for common problems.  They certainly won’t work for everyone, either philosophically or practically, but they still might offer ideas to explore.  This is where one of the wisdoms of La Leche League really applies: Take what works and leave the rest.)

About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on November 11, 2011, in Parenting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Christine,
    I think your strategy sounds great. Luckily, I have just an 8 year old. Her bedtime is 8:30 on school nights and we usually head upstairs by 7:30. I try not to hover as she’s getting ready, so I sometimes read in my room or do laundry or something. We’ve done this since she was little so she’s really used to it.

    When she’s ready I read to her until lights out (she may choose to read a bit on her own–she usually has plenty of time earlier to do her 20 minutes of reading needed for school).

    Right now we are reading Dawkins’ “Magic of Reality” and she really wants me to read it to her each night. She can play quietly while I read, until it gets close to lights-out time, then I get her into bed and we turn out the “big” light. This way, the dimmed light, prone position and my reading helps ensure she’s quiet and calm. I don’t leave any more lights on for her. Darkness seems to work best. She does have a little flashlight she can use if she needs it–she’s used this for late night reading at times. This hasn’t happened much lately, but it goes in cycles.

    Sometimes she has trouble falling asleep, but not usually. The more closely, I follow the routine, the easier she seems to fall asleep.

    The other morning she awoke at about 4:15 and went downstairs for a book and started reading. I didn’t have the energy to stop her! That incident was a first.

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