A while back I wrote about the challenges we were having with bedtimes, particularly with our five year old son. The article was cheerily titled When does bedtime become something other than a nightmare. I’m glad to report that we’ve made some changes in our nighttime routine and they are paying off wonderfully, with easy no-fuss bedtimes and considerably less stress about the house.
The first change we made was to recognize that since it doesn’t get dark until about 8pm, it’s almost impossible to convince our kids that 6.30pm is when they should go to sleep. No surprise, they’d lay in bed but be unable to even slow down while the room was bright and cheery. Important background info: our bedroom has lots of windows and translucent blinds, so if it’s light outside, it’s pretty light inside too.
We have hung up some opaque blankets and covers to reduce the amount of light in our room of an evening, but more importantly, we’ve pushed bedtime out an hour to try and save our sanity. We view it as the “sheesh, just relax about bedtime and it’ll go a lot easier” event, actually.
Now bedtime starts at around 7pm or so, and we read books (we’re in the middle of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, a very cute book), then get into pajamas, then come downstairs for a last bite to eat which we call midnight snack. Typically it’s a slice of toast or a small bowl of cereal and rice milk. Then up to clean teeth and straight into bed. Typical hit-the-bed time is about 7.30-7.45pm and that’s just when it’s getting dark outside.
One hurdle we had to overcome this week on our journey to better bedtimes was to hold our ground with The Hungry Lad. As what comes across as nothing more than a stalling tactic, G-, our 5yo, would listen to our book of the evening, get into his PJs, eat a slice of toast or bowl of cereal — or sometimes two bowls — and then after cleaning his teeth whine about “I’m hungry”. Round and round we’d go and after a period of crying and whining, he’d get a carrot, some more cereal or something similar.
But we have grown tired of this little trick, and we also think it’s not very good for his young teeth either — and taking little kids in for fillings is not a fun experience, let me tell you! — so this week we decided to just say “no” and stick with our guns.
Well, it was an interesting experience because G- just basically unhinged and was screaming, hollering, calling us “you idiots!” for not letting him have a post-teeth-cleaning snack, throwing shoes, etc etc. But we stuck with it, and I started reading one of his favorite books (Green Eggs and Ham) and, gradually, he slowed down and about an hour or so later crawled into bed, exhausted. Seconds later, he was out.
One important thing we did was that we didn’t get angry at him or the experience. Deep breathing and tag-teaming the job let us keep our feet on the ground and sympathize with the little dude rather than play into the hurricane of energy flying about.
The next night he grumbled a bit about being hungry but Linda calmly reminded him that “we don’t eat after cleaning our teeth” and that “you don’t want to have to go to the dentist again, do you?” and it was over.
Now we are — fingers crossed — past this hassle and bedtime is progressing very smoothly every night. I’d still love for them to be in bed a bit earlier, and they do seem to wake up a bit more tired, but I figure that their internal clocks will adjust and they’re still getting a solid 10-11 hours/night of sleep. If only I did the same…
Our advice if you’re in a similar situation: stick to your guns. Don’t give in to a tantrum if you really want to change a behavior, and even if it’s terrible for the first night, it’s quite unlikely that the second night will be even near as bad, and then you’re done. A kindergarten teacher friend of ours shared that she’s seen incredibly strong-willed children go bonkers the first night of a boundary change, but never seen any child still have a hard time by the third night. They just … figure it out. And it’s done.