“But I don’t want to go to bed. Why does Jimmy get to stay up later? It’s not fair. Just let me watch this show. It’s my favorite! It’s a special! I always have to miss it and everyone else watches it! Nobody else in the fourth grade has to be in bed by 8:00. Can I have a drink? A cookie? A hug? One more story? Pleeease. Where’s my stuffed rabbit. You know I can’t sleep without my stuffed rabbit. I WANT MY RABBIT!”
Would someone please explain to me why it is that kids resist going to bed early when their parents are dying for it? Worn out from a busy day, kids seem to wind up just when parents are winding down. Instead of being a cozy time of settling down, bedtime too often becomes a struggle.
Establishing and maintaining a bedtime routine is worth the struggle. There is so much good learning that can go on during the hour before lights out that it really shouldn’t be missed.
Bedtime is a daily opportunity to build and nurture your relationship with your child. There’s something about a quiet darkened room that invites conversation. This is a time to take stock, to snuggle, to talk about some of the important things that your child is thinking about. When children know that bedtime is a time when you give a few minutes of undivided attention, they often save up their most sensitive questions for sharing. Yes, sometimes they’ll use it to hang onto you when you really want to get to your own projects or the newspaper. Calmly set some limits and carry on. This is the real stuff of parenting — building your child’s sense of personal value, answering the big questions, teaching your values through stories and talk.
Repetition and structure help children feel safe. Bedtime declares that the day is over. When you are loving and firm about when it is time for bed, you are building your children’s confidence in their world. Repetition for young children is comforting — ever wonder why they want the same story over and over? The repetition of the getting ready for bed routine (getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, a drink of water, a story, a hug, goodnight) lets your child know what to expect and helps him or her feel secure.
An important part of being independent is having the skills to settle yourself down when you are tired or stressed. Bedtime routines help children learn to transition from the busy activity of the day to settling down for sleep. Bedtime is a time to teach children how to soothe themselves and how to relax. Help them learn a few relaxation tricks like tensing and releasing muscles or thinking about a favorite place. This is a gift they’ll use forever.
Bedtime connected to story time puts a love of language deep inside a person. Try to read aloud to your child every evening, or at least two out of three. Don’t quit when kids can read on their own. They’ll do plenty of that in school and out. Keep reading aloud as part of the bedtime routine right up to the teen years. It will help you stay connected in a positive way during what can be a prickly time.
Like everything else about family life, the goal isn’t to be perfect around bedtime routines. You won’t be. Bedtime is often anything but the relaxed calm ending to the day we’d like it to be. But it is important for both parents and children to have a sense of what is supposed to happen and to pull it off more often than not. When you do, you add a significant measure of emotional strength to your children and your family.