Bedtimes can be super challenging can’t they? It’s late, you’re tired, your kids are wired and everything just seems to be a struggle.
So you follow the dinner, bath, bed routine. You make things calm. You dim the lights. Make sure the TV has been turned off in advance. Maybe even put soothing music on or a meditation to calm everyone down.
Only problem is, your child has suddenly got a second wind and is bouncing around the place, completely refusing to comply!
Or your partner comes home and everyone gets excited and he revs them all up - undoing all of your good work.
Which is completely infuriating and causes more tension and you being more short tempered.
So how about trying something different?
How about meeting your child with where they’re at?
Because the way to solve challenges with your child is THROUGH the problem or behaviour. Not trying to impose something else onto them.
So instead of focusing on the routine and trying to calm your children down, find ways to connect with them.
So if they’re running around in the nude after the bath - chase them! Wrestle with them on the bed! Have fun WITH them.
Because it’s super easy, isn’t it, while your children are in the bath or playing with their siblings, to just leave them to it and get some of the never ending jobs done.
But the best thing you can do is to play with them. Join in the high energy. Especially if they’ve been away from you all or some of the day.
Set the timer for 10 minutes - either physically or mentally. So you know you only have to spend that amount of time playing and then you can get on with the rest of the bedtime routine.
Delight in your child. Be silly. “follow the giggles” as Larry Cohen, author of Parenting with Play and The Art of Rough-housing says.
Not only will your child love it, but you will too.
Your child will feel more connected with you - and the more they feel this, the more willing they will be to then do things such as clean their teeth, get changed etc. It also makes it easier for them to separate from you by going to sleep, because sleep is a form of separation. And like all separations, the more your child actively feels your love, the more confident they are about stepping away from you.
The games also encourage more cuddling which is great for both of you. Oxytocin is the hormone of love and the more you have that coursing round your body, the more loving you feel towards your child and the less irritated you are. Which then leads to you being more patient and emotionally present with them.
Try to weave play throughout the bedtime activities such as being silly when cleaning teeth or maybe throwing their pyjamas at them whilst they run away from you whilst getting changed. Whatever challenge you’re experiencing, think how you can incorporate a game & silliness into it.
Because afterwards your child is much more likely to be cooperative and go to sleep more easily.
And if they’re not. If they become upset when the game ends or they focus on something seemingly insignificant, know that that’s just their upset feelings coming out and is a perfect opportunity for them to offload whatever is bothering them. All you need to do is listen to them whilst they cry or tantrum or complain.
If you’re unsure or unfamiliar about the benefits of crying - listen to Episode 4 which is my interview with Marion Rose on Crying.
The play can often times be enough, but sometimes there’s more. So don’t think that the play isn’t working or something is wrong. It’s all part & parcel of the process and means things are actually going really well (even though I know it may not feel like it at the time!).
Which is why play is so good for you to get you in the right frame of mind just in case your child needs to do this.
So what age am I talk about for incorporating play into bedtimes? All ages. From your crawling babies to you tweens.
I regularly play a chasing or wrestling game with my 4 year old and often my 10 year old joins in too. If we’re really lucky my husband joins in as well and there’s lots of fun & giggles.
This is especially helpful if your partner or babysitter is putting your child to bed and your child only wants you to do it.
Encouraging your partner or sitter to play (either with you or without) rebuilds the connection which will help your child to feel more comfortable and willing to be put to bed by them.
What about meditations, essential oils, soothing music?
They’re all really lovely things and are great to incorporate in. But don’t rely on them as the mechanism to help your child sleep.
In fact, meditations and music can actually make things harder for you in the long run.
Because they are often used to distract children from any feelings in order to get them to sleep. The more you distract, the more the feelings stay inside.
Which is why play is so helpful. Play reconnects you both and helps your child to offload any upset feelings through laughter. Plus it may lead onto a cry too which, again, releases stored upset feelings.
So do, by all means, play lovely music at home and use your lovely oils (i have my diffuser on now), but use bedtimes as the opportunity to reconnect and get to the heart of what’s going on for your child, providing the opportunity for them to release what’s bothering them.
When you can do that, then sleep will come naturally.
Because, just like when you’re stressed and toss & turn at night not being able to go to sleep or wake up at 4am in a panic, your child’s sleep is also affected by their feelings & what’s been going on for them.
So give them the opportunity to offload, have a laugh and maybe a cry and notice how much easier things become.
I’d love to hear how you go, so come and let me know on my Facebook page at Parenting with Play with Helena Mooney.
If you'd like to ask a question for me to answer in an episode, please submit a question here. If you're struggling with a particular challenge, it's guaranteed others are too, so don't be shy!
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