BEDTIME BATTLES


Question:


Hi there, I’m e-mailing from Toronto Canada.

My daughter is 3.5 years old, and recently she has made bedtime a bit of al challenge for my husband and I. Her bedtime routine has remained the same as always:

change in to pyjamas
brush teeth
read story
prayer
back rub
kiss goodnight


She is fine with the ENTIRE bedtime routine (does not resist having to go to bed), but the minute I or my husband kiss her good night, she leaps out of bed, and starts feeling anxious, and starts asking a bunch of questions (i.e. “are you and daddy going anywhere?) or starts talking to stall and keep me there.
I’ll try to remain calm, patient and answer her questions, than I’ll say “ok. Sweetheart, it’s time for bed” I’ll even say that if she’s not sleepy right away, she can look at some of her books, but that she does need to stay in her room.

The minute I go downstairs, she starts calling out, crying, with a list of requests from having to go the bathroom (which she knows she can do on her own), needing a drink (we’ve left a cup in bathroom for her), to saying she’s worried and scared (for which I’ve asked her what she’s worried about, and the answer is always different). I’ve reassured her by saying things like “ I know the dark can be scary at times, but you are safe at home, and mommy and daddy are downstairs”

We’ve done  things like NOT GOING TO HER when she calls out, WALKING HER BACK to her room silently when she comes out of her room, but she is persistent. I’ve even given her a little keepsake (a “worry stone”) for her to keep under her pillow, and I told her that if she feels scared or worried and she feels like she’s going to call out for mommy/daddy, to reach for her stone and hold it and that’s its to REMIND HER TO THINK GOOD THOUGHTS to help her sleep.

NOTHING has worked, and to be honest, I’m at my wits end. I feel like I have truly tried to make bedtime a pleasant and loving routine, BUT when I notice she’s still calling out, crying, and coming out of her room OR standing at her doorway 2-3 hours AFTER we’ve tucked her in, it’s VERY hard to remain  patient. I feel like she’s not getting enough sleep and this needs to stop!

Any ideas what else I can try? Or maybe you can shed some light of what I may be doing wrong?

PLEASE HELP!
Thanks,
Angelica

Answer:


Dear Angelica,
My name is Jody McVittie and I’m part of the team that answers questions for the website.  I’m also a mother of three young adults and a family physician.  I can still remember some of our own challenges with bed time issues.  
 
Just because what you are doing isn’t always smooth and lovely, doesn’t mean that you are doing anything “wrong” but I hear that you would like to be more effective.  Here are a couple of ideas that you might use to add to what you are already doing.
-          I’m guessing that if you continue what you are doing and are willing to let her have her (normal) feelings about going to bed and all of the drama that goes with them you will find that she settles into a more comfortable routine. Kids can be really, really creative if they sense that it is more important to you that they are happy, than following the routines. And almost 4 year olds are among the best! One way to help both of you get used to these intense feelings is to name them.  After you do your final tuck in you can share what you notice. “Honey, I can tell that you would rather have me stay and talk to you longer. It is okay to be disappointed that the day is over. But it is bed time now.  I love you and I’ll be in the house.” Then leave and let her be disappointed.  The process of walking her back to bed in a calm and quiet way over and over and over again will not have instant results.  But it will work if you hold the knowledge that it is okay for her to be upset and let her have her feelings and the drama without coming to the conclusion that there is something wrong with her or with you.
-          Think about what it might look like from her point of view.  As parents you need your time alone in the evening to be with each other and do other things.  But from your daughter’s point of view she may be mistakenly getting the sense that you don’t want her around in the evening: that you are “done with her” for the night. She may not have words for this feeling – but it may be causing behavior aimed to “check” that you really DO care about her.   You might say to her at a time when you are together that is not at bedtime, “Honey, I notice that at bedtime you seem to get upset after we tuck you in, and you keep calling us.  I’m wondering if it is just hard for you to say goodbye to the day, or whether you have the idea that we don’t want you around.  Dad and I do have things to do after you go to bed. We try to save those things for later so we can play with you when you are up… but we still want you and love you, even when you are in your bed.”
-          Re evaluate what “working” means.  Sometimes we think that if we do things “right” as parents, then our kids should do what we want and it will be “easy.”  That is not exactly how it works!  Your “job” as a parent is to love your kids and to set limits to help them learn about themselves in a kind and firm way.  Bedtime routines are part of that.  Your daughter’s job is to explore those limits, learn about herself and the world and gradually grow into an adult.  What would happen if you looked at her drama around bed time as her way of exploring what was really important to you?  Or as a way of exploring how you handle challenge and disappointment so she can learn from you? (She doesn’t do this consciously of course.)
-          A few other things that you probably already do that are helpful for bedtime issues include:
-          Having a picture “routine chart” that she and you can make on a weekend with pictures of her doing all of the steps (including laying in bed, or playing quietly in bed after tuck in). Then you can let the routine chart “be the boss” instead of you. 
-          Making sure that during the day you have one on one time playing with your daughter so that she takes in that she has been with you, and that you know who she is. (Actions speak this louder than words.)
-          Making sure that you both (she and you) know that you can’t make her go to sleep, but after bed time she can play quietly or read in her bed.
 
You might find reading Positive Discipline for Preschoolers helpful. It is probably available in your local library or book store. There are also great parenting classes in Toronto and I can give you a couple of names if that would be helpful.
 
Your daughter is lucky to have a mom so thoughtful about how to make life work for your family!
Best wishes,
Jody McVittie, MD
 
PS.  One other thing that I encourage parents to do: talk about yourself in the first person!  You wouldn’t say to a neighbor “Angelica is going to the store,” you’d say “I’m going to the store.”  Do the same with your daughter. It will feel more solid for both of you (though any change is awkward at first). So you’ll say, “I love you and now I’m going downstairs to read my book”  instead of Mommy loves you ….
 


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