I was recently talking with other parents about a pain we all well know: that of convincing young children their day has ended, their bodies need sleep, and their beds are the place to do it. Such a tough sell.
I once described bedtime as “my life’s hardest job, every single day.” I stand by that, especially with a child who is two, or three, or four. Sometimes five or six. (Maybe older, too, though now I am just speculating).
I have read books that infuse humor (like this), read blogs that give a sense of comraderie and more good laughs (like this), and posted on social media in hopes of distracting myself from the misery that can be someone repeatedly calling your name while you hide in a dark closet. (No, I don’t do that. …Don’t you?)
But those books can only help so much, and mostly one must slog through. I started to notice, though, that some of the best bedtimes were–inexplicably–the ones that probably seemed to go most badly to the outside observer (oh, please let there be no outside bedtime observer). Yes: the nights when bedtime included a bit of (child) sobbing were often some of the easiest over all.
For real. When bedtime went awry and my kids ended up crying, they were expending their final energy reserves. Using all they had. And once they calmed down, they fell insta-peaceful asleep like Dorothy in a poppy field. (When I first typed that, I wrote “poopy field” and almost left it. hehe).
Not one to waste DISCOVERING MAGIC, I now sometimes leverage this weakness in the system to speed things along. I have convinced myself we are all benefiting in the long run.
Step one: provoke crying
Sooo, sometimes when they are rightrightright on the edge of losing it–we all know that moment, when the adorable laughter and sillliness has an edge of insanity and the eye of the storm is passing–I throw caution to the wind and push them right over. In the most loving way. Like when the one favorite jammies are dirty, offer the most hated pair as an alternative, indicating that you’ll ‘probably do the laundry tomorrow.’ Or when a snack is demanded, respond with a long speech about healthy eating, the chance to consume proper nutrition at dinner, and that child’s woeful lack of nutritional performance that day, such that maybe they should lose the ability to have snacks tomorrow. You know, rational things that kids canNOT DEAL with.
Once they are crying, you walk away. You are mad. They have betrayed you and your logical parenting solutions. –But you’re actually FINE!! This crying doesn’t faze you–you created it. It is your tool. You expected it, and now you go read your book.
Let it go long enough that they are probably really sorry and absorbing a great lesson about rotating clothing or eating vegetables at dinner.
Step two: Provide comfort
They’re so distraught over the terrible pajamas–blue, two pieces, with pants, and Mickey Mouse at Christmas!?!–or the loss of tomorrow’s fruitsnacks that they need comfort. From anywhere.
You swoop in and they will accept your hugs and back rubs, even though you created this storm 90 seconds ago. Don’t overdo it, and avoid dialog. Just soothe, and smile peacefully, and imagine how hard it really must be to be three years old.
Step three: make a small concession
While you are comforting and the crying has turned to whimpers, close the deal. Maybe would your child like to sleep in their NUMBER TWO FAVORITE pajamas while you start a load of laundry RIGHT NOW? You could help them change! Would they like a healthy-but-tasty bowl of carrots and a glass of ice water? And tomorrow they can help cook dinner so they can make sure it has something they LOVE?
In my experience, the right combination of concessions will get you pajama compliance, vegetable eating (or at least an end of food requests), a future dinner helper, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–silence. The crying stops. The pj’s go on. They usually choose sleep over carrots.
And then, well, just count down from 100, bedtime warrior. Because you’re almost there. Just remember:
The three C’s of successful bedtime.