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Avoiding Beastly Bedtimes

We all want serenity at the end of the day, a slow wind-down, a gentle cuddle, and drifting off into sweet dreams.

Well, dream on. For many families, bedtime is the major battle. Since bedtime comes in the evening when everybody is exhausted, tempers fray easily. As the parent, you may be so tired and wanting to spend a quiet half hour with your partner that your tolerance is out the window. At the same time, your kids begin their wildness. The more fatigued they get, the more resistant to bedtime—and you.

When Bedtime Is Agony

If your child has a hard-to-impossible time going to sleep, consider that he might be a night owl, and when the sun goes down, he's just kicking it into high gear. There may be other reasons for his resistance:

  • Did he get enough exercise? Kids need to move and the child who's been in school all day (at a desk), comes home to homework (at a desk), sits down to dinner (at a table), and now is asked to lie down (on a bed) may need to physically move his body in order to release. I know a woman with sons who takes them to a park every evening. “I'm taking the boys out for a run,” she jokes. They sleep better when she's “run” them.
  • On the other hand, he may need some time just to be at his own pace. Life is conducted at a rush rush pace, without a lot of time to just be a kid anymore. He rushed out of the house, concentrated at school, did his chores, ate dinner, did his homework. Now he wants to be a kid for a while.
  • Sometimes kids want their limits stretched, and resist bedtime because they feel they should be allowed to stay up later.
  • Some kids, especially little ones, need a physical release, such as provided by laughing hysterically or crying before their bodies are relaxed enough to sleep. They won't know this, of course. They are acting on a purely instinctual basis when they rile you up until you yell. Then they cry, and then they drop off to sleep like babies.
It's a Good Idea!

A responsible 10-year-old can self-organize his bedtime and all that entails: finishing homework, washing up, brushing hair, getting into pj's, whatever you do in your household before bed. Tell him he's got an hour left, and it's up to him to get ready. The increased responsibility may lessen his resistance.

It's a Good Idea!

The more reliable your daily rhythms and rituals, the more secure, and calmer, your child will be. Rituals and rhythms are the foundations of life (as spring follows winter, day follows night, and night, day).

Some Enchanted Evening Suggestions

Here are some suggestions for smoothing and soothing your evenings:

  • Rely on ritual to carry you through. The more you can make bedtimes routine, the smoother most of them will go. Help your child with her bedtime rituals or give gentle reminders.
  • Establish limits. Once you set a limit, avoid nagging. Remind her of the consequence, “If you want me to sing to you, you have to leave enough time. That means getting into bed by 8:15.”
  • When the going gets rough, point out (once!) that the natural consequence of not going to bed is that she'll be tired in the morning. Not that this will sink in now.
  • Involve yourself in bedtime. It's hard, especially when you're tired, but it's best if you can plan to focus more attention than usual. (I know, it's hard when you're tired.) Bedtimes can be a very special time. Your kids may feel starved for you, and reluctant to let you go. Sometimes a little added special time or attention will get them drifting off to slumberland.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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