“Bedtime!” we trill.
Tonight, my husband and I hope that, for once, our children will say, “Okay!” and dutifully tromp up the stairs for pajamas, tooth brushing, and lights out.
Wouldn’t that be magical?
But let’s not kid ourselves, that is just not going to happen most of the time. And when they resist, and we respond with “because I said so,” or “you have to go to bed,” what we are doing is asserting our power over them. I am bigger, older, and more powerful than you so you have to do what I say. That can feel disrespectful to the child and invites resistance.
Cue: “I don’t wanna go to bed!!”
We need to look at it from their point of view. Our children have little to no control over much of their daily lives.
We wake them up for school or daycare. We tell them to get dressed and go to the bathroom. At school they are told where to be, when to be there, and what to think about. Then at home we tell them to practice an instrument or sport. And then we tell them what to eat!
Telling them when to go to bed can be the last straw. That is why most power struggles revolve around their physical self or body.
Think about the power struggles you have with your children. I bet they go into 4 categories: 1) what goes in their body, 2) what goes out of their body, 3) what goes on their body, and 4) where they put their body!
As much as I’d like to, I cannot force my children to sleep by plunking them down in bed and shutting their eyelids. That is one thing completely outside of my parental control.
The truth is, our kids are pretty good about regulating their bodies’ needs. They eat when they are hungry. They go to the bathroom when nature calls. They are going to do what they need to based on their bodies’ cues, so the more we get involved the more they tend to resist and push back.
So why do so many parents lose sleep over getting their child to sleep?
Well, it’s a main ingredient to growing both a healthy mind and body. Growth hormones are predominantly secreted during deep sleep, so without proper sleep it can actually stunt a child’s growth. Sleep has also been linked to heart health and healthy weight as well. Increasing evidence has revealed that a lack of sleep can actually lead to obesity.
Sleep not only has a direct effect on a child’s physical growth, but it directly effects their ability to learn and their mood as well. Kids who do not get the prescribed amount of sleep tend to be more forgetful, have difficulty learning new information and lack interest. It also directly affects their mood and behavior because a sleep deprived child tends to be more irritable, impulsive and have higher levels of stress throughout the day.
So, what can parents do to make sure our kids are getting enough rest and going to sleep at a reasonable hour? It turns out there are small and easy things we can change in our communication style that will invite our children to go to sleep when it is time for bed.
Here are just 3 tips and strategies to invite your children to go to bed the first (or second) time you ask.
Get Clear – Communicate with an Enforceable Statement
Parents often feel like their children are trying to “manipulate” them. Some kids become master manipulators as early as the ripe old age of two! And yes, some children can and do become very skilled manipulators or negotiators.
However, children are not born with these skills; they acquire when we, as their parents, use what are commonly known as threats and bribes as a means of parenting or discipline. Yes, we have all tried it at one time and are all guilty. I know I am!
Quite honestly, bribes and threats can be very effective – in the short term.
What most parents do not realize is that there are huge costs to utilizing these tactics in the long run. They can literally backfire on us. When we use threats and bribes in our parenting, our children develop the amazing ability to pull into trying to control things that we truly cannot.
When we use Enforceable Statements instead we tell the kids what we will allow rather than trying to tell them what to do. It is also a means of inviting our children’s cooperation instead of forcing our will upon them.
When we use enforceable statements, we are continuing to share power and control with our children, which invites less resistance. And we don’t end up doing something that we regret or have a conversation that we are not interested in having.
Examples of Enforceable Statements:
- I am happy to read books to kids who have brushed their teeth.
- I’ll listen as soon as your tone and voice is quiet like mine.
- I’m happy to help brush teeth when I see everyone has pajamas on.
- I’ll be happy to tuck you in as soon as the light is turned out.
Offer Limited Choices
We all want choices in life. Your kids are no different. Once they become toddlers, control becomes important. This is because at around age 18 months, children begin to separate from their parents.
This is the first time they realize they are a separate entity. With the separation they gain ideas and preferences. When once you could have ready any book on the bookshelf, at age two they may throw themselves on the floor demanding you read the bunny book!
If you think of it as control, it all makes sense. You don’t care which book you read. You just want them to get in bed so you can read together!
To stave off conflicts, it is helpful to offer limited choices throughout the day, so your kids feel they have some control over their lives.
Before making a request or a demand, offer choices for things. Instead of “go brush your teeth,” try “do you want to brush your teeth first or get your jammies on first?”
Choices like those can get out of many frustrating bedtime situations. There are many choices you can offer at bedtime. To increase the effectiveness of choices, it is important to:
- Offer only two choices that work for you.
- If they don’t pick or want a third option, you simply choose for them “No problem, I’ll decide.” Follow through on that choice.
- To stay out of a power-struggle, offer the child an opportunity to make a choice on something else.
- Keep your tone and attitude calm and relaxed as if this is no big deal for you. You are fine either way they decide.
A few bedtime choices that you could give might be:
- Do you want to brush teeth first or put pajamas on first?
- Do you want to change your clothes by yourself or do you want me to help you?
- Do you want one last regular kiss or an Eskimo kiss before I turn the lights out?
- Do you want the door open or closed when you go to sleep?
When we make a demand, or even a direct request, we are telling our child what they have to do. A parent that “tells” uses commands to communicate with their children. This not only can fuel power struggles and conflict, but it eliminates our children’s ability to make choices and think creatively while feeling respected.
According to Positive Discipline, telling ultimately invites resistance and the body tends to feel tense, whereas asking sends the message to the brain “look for an answer” while feeling relaxed.
A parent who “asks” uses curiosity questions to involve their child in making good decisions. When parents use questions, children feel important and in charge of themselves.
Here are some examples of how a request can be communicated in the form of a curiosity question.
Command: “Go brush your teeth now please.”
Curiosity Question: “What do you need to do now to keep your teeth healthy?”
Command: “Put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.”
Curiosity Question: “Do you remember where the dirty clothes live before they go in the washer?”
Command: “Get in bed!”
Curiosity Question: “Where do you need to be now that we have brushed teeth and read books?”
Command: “Don’t forget to turn your light off!”
Curiosity Question: “What is the last thing you need to do now since it is time for bed?”
Getting clear, offering limited choices, and showing curiosity will not only increase the likelihood that your child will go to bed and get enough rest, but it also fosters a relationship between you and your child that is built on trust and mutual respect. Try one or all three tips today and see what happens at bedtime tonight. This is a process, so experiment, be consistent, and most importantly have fun with it!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick action today, try this –
What does your bedtime routine look like now? What is working for you? What could work better?
Before the bedtime routine, come up with at least 3 sets of choices you can offer to invite your child’s cooperation. Be sure to start offering right from the start and come up with as many as possible.
If you run out of choices to give them find ways to ask questions versus telling your child what you would like for them to do.
The Long-Term Action Plan for Fine Parents
Ideally you have a clear plan that can be followed every night. Having a routine chart that you create with your child can be a valuable tool because they help take the power struggles out of daily routines. Check out Is It Time for Your Family to Hit The Charts? for some great tips on how to create a routine chart with your child.
Make sure everyone is on board with the new bedtime routine. Come up with a plan for those nights when one partner can’t be there or if you have a sitter putting them to bed.