This post originally appeared March 14, 2012.
Ahhhh bedtime. Peaceful. Quiet. The perfect time for parents to relax, recharge and reconnect with each other. After the kids have smiled their last sleepy smile you close the door and drift downstairs ready to let the adult time begin.
Doesn’t that sound fabulous… and well UNREALISTIC?!?!? I would have agreed until about 6 months ago. I was in search of a way to fix our bedtime woes.
The Bedtime Battle
M and M had become out of control at bedtime. Begging for one more drink, yelling for me (or at each other), crying for me to stay in the room. It was awful… and of course I made terrible parenting choices. I was so, so exhausted by that point in the evening that I was doing things I don’t even consider during the day.
Bribery, bending (um breaking) set rules, yelling (ick), and worst of all letting guilt sway my parenting choices. I just kept picturing their dreams being filled with my angry/ exhausted/ frustrated face… since that was the last thing they had seen. So I would go soft and let them get away with anything. It got to the point where Hubs had to put them to bed for me… I had lost ALL credibility at bedtime.
A Better Bedtime
I came across an idea that sounded so crazy I had to read it three times before deciding to put it into action.
Let the kids decide when to go to sleep.
My brain was spinning. ”WHAT?!? We would be nuts to consider it! No way, no way… NO WAY! Hmmmm…. what we’re doing isn’t working. Trying it out couldn’t hurt. Why not… we’re mostly nuts anyway.” So we set a plan… decided on the boundaries and braced ourselves for a very long night.
We had the kids prepped for sleep by 7:00 pm. (Teeth brushed, jammies on, stories read.) Then we let them in on the “rules” for the evening. We told them (very honestly) that we had enjoyed spending the day with them but now we needed some “adult time”.
They were welcome to stay awake, but they were to play quietly in their room. We would know they were ready for bed when they came out of their room. (The hidden meaning there is that they can only come out once!) We told them to enjoy their rest and then walked down the stairs.
Would you believe they played quietly for 1 hour and then ASKED to go to bed?!?! You read that right they actually said “I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.” It worked! It worked! It worked! Best part is… it’s still working. After 6 months it is still working. I love awesome parenting tricks that are so easy to execute!
Extra Tips: 1. In the beginning we were really strict (although kind, patient and calm) about the “once out straight-to-sleep rule”. There were NO exceptions. After a month or so we were able to be a bit more flexible. Sometimes Big M will have a Lego structure to show us and we can look then send him back up with no problem. It will be easy to go back to being strict if coming out becomes a problem though. 2. Rowdy play, fighting or just plain being loud are grounds for sleep time. 3. M and M have rarely been ready for bed past 8. If you have a real “set” time that you want your little ones off to dreamland the transition should be easy. Just guide them into bed with a kiss and hug. I bet they won’t even notice it wasn’t their choice after quietly playing for so long.
Ready for bedtime? Let me know if this works for you too!
*** update A lot of you asked about how this technique would work for younger kids. Here are some examples from the comment sections. Thank you all for sharing your experience.
Larissa says: We’ve used this concept with our children and the great part about doing it with your first, and then subsequently having more children…they learn the process off the older one. So the ‘battle’ we had with our first at around 2yrs old, wasn’t even an issue when we had our second child. She just saw what her big brother was doing (they share a room) and we had no battle with her. We have three children now, and when the baby is old enough to move in with her sister, same thing; wonderful bedtimes.
I always feel for the parents that have to stay with their child until they fall asleep. My alone time is so precious starting at 7:30pm. I don’t know what kind of a mother I’d be without it!
Kat says : my son’s 2-1/2 now and i’ve been doing this since he was around 16 months old or so. it works great! he chooses when he wants to go into his room (no later than 7pm – he usually goes in around 5:30 or 6pm) and basically decides when he wants to go to bed (usually falls asleep between 8pm-9pm). he sleeps better and it’s less stressful for him and us. i do this with his naptime too, but usually he just has a 1-1/2 hour “quiet time” because he stopped the naps but his doc recommended a quiet time around the same time as his nap would be. and he’s so much better when he’s rested even if it’s just playing in his room.
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