Work & Play
Bedtime: The Struggle is Real
How’s bedtime going?
Sleeping issues and bedtime struggles are a common topic in our Work & Play world. Why?
There are so many ways that bedtime can get away from us! From not falling asleep, not staying asleep, resisting bedtime, bad dreams, trouble settling down, parent stress levels, bedwetting...so many parenting challenges seem to bubble up as our day winds down.
If you’re finding yourself in a bedtime battle, we get it. Children react to bedtime in so many ways, each one unique. There are so many reasons this could be happening - as varied and individual as the children themselves. While we can’t claim to have the answer, we do have strategies that might help reframe how you are approaching bedtime.
It’s always a good idea to start with the basics when weeding out how things might be going off track. Consider:
Is the struggle hunger or food related? Throughout the early childhood years children’s appetites will wax and wane and so will their digestive rhythms! For some kids, having a full belly close to bedtime can rev them up. Other times, hungry rumblings can make it hard to settle. And of course if eating times have changed, so can the need to use the bathroom! That can keep them wiggly and restless as well.
Are bathroom needs at play? How often are you asked for a drink of water at bedtime? It’s an oldie but a goodie. While drinks at bedtime are ok, limit the volume. Having a belly (or bladder) full of water can make resting a challenge. We recommend limiting how much they drink for the hours leading up to bedtime. Kiddos extra thirsty? Focus on packing in drinks and hydrating snacks earlier in the day! (Think fresh fruit, water bottles and vegetables like cucumbers.) If they are insistent on water at bedtime, fill a bottle mostly with ice and a little water. Once they drink it all, they need to wait for the ice to melt to have more, helping to pace things out.
Has there been a change in routine? Trips, celebrations that lead to later bedtimes, house guests or an upcoming event can be enough to ramp up energy and excitement at bedtime. Of course, these are temporary so hopefully, even if you have a handful of challenging bedtimes, you will be able to settle back into a routine. Don’t underestimate going back to school as a new routine - even a few weeks in, this huge adjustment can meddle with even the best sleeper’s habits.
Are physiological changes at work? Growth spurts and growing pains are real! Some kiddos are more sensitive to the feelings of growing. Some may complain of achiness or restlessness. Bones really do grow more during sleep! Again, a temporary situation but a real one!
Are there new fears in the mix? Did they see or overhear something that frightened them - from a sibling, the news, a conversation, even YouTube Kids? Sometimes fears, even irrational ones, can come to mind with little ones. Think through how you can acknowledge their fear and help them work through it. Maybe a night light, soft music or white noise machine might help soothe the scary thoughts.
Does your bedtime routine need a reboot? Too early or too late? Too many choices? Too stimulating? Too flexible? Sometimes we as parents unwittingly make bedtime a battle. For example, if you start bedtime at 7:00 but your kiddo routinely is not able to fall asleep until 8:30, it may make sense to push bedtime back until they are ready to sleep.
Could a QUIET TIME routine help? Some kiddos need a longer transition from awake time to sleep time. Consider practicing quiet time in their sleep space, a dedicated time when they can move about, and maybe even play, with items you have deemed appropriate. A basket of favorite books, small stuffed animals, legos or puzzles may be in order. Explain what quiet time should look like - ideally in their sleep space, playing independently and quietly. Dimming the lights can signal that this kind of play is different from other times of play.
What energy do we parents bring to bedtime? Sometimes we’re tense or unclear about expectations. Our energy and attitude around bedtime can impact our kiddos. When we’re nervous or stressed they feel it. Check in on your own feelings about bedtime. Take a break if you can. Have your partner, caregiver or family member take over bedtime for a few nights. If that’s not an option, shift the focus and try to change the tone around bedtime.
Are kids craving time with you? Even negative attention can feed the urge to find ways to get a parent’s attention. If you’re getting push back and a constant string of requests, rethink your time pre-bedtime. Setting aside an uninterrupted 10 minutes to give your child your undivided attention before the bedtime routine begins can help soothe that need.
When all else fails, find your NO. We go back to this concept so often at Work & Play. Sometimes the missing piece to a parent-child struggle is us just saying NO. No to staying up later. No to more stories. No to getting out of bed so many times. We won’t sugar coat it, this is HARD. You will not get cheers and platitudes for saying NO. In fact, you will initially get more pushback and struggle. However, when a no is consistent and real, said with love and clarity, children will often eventually give in to it and you will see progress.
Have you asked them what’s going on? If your child is verbal, ask them. In a quiet moment, away from bedtime and with kindness. Share with them that bedtime seems hard for them. Tell them that it is hard for you, too, and that you want to help them if you can. Sometimes they can tell you just what it is and you can support them as they begin to work through it.
Have you checked in with your pediatrician? Sometimes the bedtime struggle is a medical issue. If you are at a loss for what’s happening, check in with your child’s doctor. They may have insights as well.
We know what you are going through, and it’s hard. Whether 2 years old or 15 years old, a night with not enough sleep can mean a hard next day for everyone involved. Hang in there. Trust your gut. Lean on your support system. Keep doing the messy work of parenting.
We get it. We are here if you need someone to talk through it.
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