Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekly Column: The Bedtime Rush

At bedtime, our house usually takes on an aura of efficiency. 
The end is near and we race towards it with glazed eyes.  We plow through the routine with diligent tunnel-vision.  It’s not hard to do – our routine has remained largely untouched over the past few years.   We know exactly what happens after the bath is finished and we know how many drops of lotion cover a toddler’s body.  We know which little one wears which favorite jammies and prefers which toothpaste.  Each child hears a few stories, each child is tucked in bed, each door is closed tight.
Then, each parent is sacked out in silence on the couch.
We may have as many as three or four golden minutes of silence before the peace is broken. 
Girl number one has an important question about Curious George’s lack of a tail, and Girl number two needs a drink of water.  Girl number one forgot to pick out her clothes for the next day, and Girl number two is worried about an ominous shadow.  Over and over, we’re called back for a clarification or request or an assurance, and the night’s efficiency is kaput. 
By the time they’re finally settled, forty-five minutes may have passed.  Bedtime will have snowballed into The Nightly Reoccurring Bedtime Fiasco. 
Weekly, my husband and I would reevaluate and try to resolve the stalling.   We switched storytelling roles, wondering if a different parent would ease the clinginess.  We tried being more stern with our rules, only allowing one ‘call-back’ per night.  We attempted to cut the interruptions off at the pass by being ultra-prepared: water was on the nightstand, clothes were laid out, bathroom breaks were reinforced before lights-out. 
And for a night or two, those things worked.  We could race through our bedtime routine, get the job done, and avoid prolonging bedtime requests. 
Still, those solutions weren’t permanent.  We became more and more frustrated as too many nights ended in arguments rather than calm hugs.  Then, after sharing our troubles with friends, a suggestion came: spend MORE time at bedtime.  Don’t rush through the process, eyes only on the end prize of a quiet evening.
The logic made sense.  If our girls were begging more attention at bedtime, maybe they needed more attention.  Maybe the headlong sprint towards lights-out was too fast and methodical to allow for any quiet, calming discussion or snuggling.  An extra bit of planned attention at the end of the day might be the perfect solution for our runaway bedtimes. 
So we tried it. 
In Girl number one’s room, daddy talked over the day’s highlights, listening to silly questions and wondering what tomorrow might bring.  He sang a favorite song, and let his big girl snuggle on his lap.  They got a drink of water together.  Tucking-in and snuggling down took about ten minutes longer than usual, but after he closed the door, she didn’t make a peep until morning. 
In Girl number two’s room, I sat with her in the rocking chair.  We picked out an outfit to wear the next day, and chose the perfect stuffed tiger to keep her safe through the night.  She did a dance to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle while I fixed her blankets.  We talked about why it’s not okay to pee the bed, and we made a second trip to the potty, just in case.  As long and slow as bedtime was, it was still quicker and happier than the usual round of call-backs and frustration. 
Plus, it still works. 
Slowing down at bedtime was just what this family needed to enjoy the end of the day, once again. 

7 comments:

  1. Great advice! It's always so weird when the last thing you'd expect is the one thing that actually works, don't you think? I'll have to try this with Penelope though. Thanks!

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  2. It's only 5 o'clock and I'm already looking at the clock thinking "hmm 2 1/2 more hours until I can start getting her ready for bed." I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth.

    Good tip though. We really should take the time for more "down time" at the end of the day.

    p.s. thanks for your super sweet comment on my blog =0)

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  3. We discovered the same many years ago. There is a reason that they need your attention. When you give it to them, not only are they happier and more content, but you receive some much needed peace.

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  4. well, wow. I think I'm going to have to do this myself. Bedtime is always quite the drawn our drama. lol! And, like you, I am always ready for the day to be done. However, whats a few extra minutes to add peace and calm to the night and help my children feel loved and secure? I like it. :)

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  5. Slowing down when you want nothing more than to speed right through ... It seems so counterintuitive, like so many things about parenting, right?! =>

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  6. This is wise advice, because kids need the time to wind down and express their thoughts/fears/tales of their day. But we so want to rush to that prize that is oblivion on the couch. I hear you.

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  7. Great tip! Thanks for sharing this story...Our 2 1/2 year old is still in her crib but I know the days are coming soon when she will figure out how to get out.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?