In the past few months home visits have been on the rise for me. Home visits meaning, I visit individuals’ homes where there is a need to observe the dynamics of families who are struggling in specific issues that need to be addressed. On the top of the list for home visits are issues with bedtime and children staying in their own beds. Sounds somewhat minor to some, but when parents are continuing to struggle with getting a child to bed or a child waking up several times a night, these behaviors not only can be bothersome but also be in indication of other issues in the family unit.
Okay, most parents have experienced the dreaded night (or nights) when a child is literally fighting, whining, avoiding, deterring, or dodging going to bed. I am not talking about these occasional nights. I am addressing when a child is causing havoc in the family regarding bedtime or a child who gets up or screams from their bed routinely. These are the kids who have been examined by their pediatrician and there are no health issues causing physical pain or discomfort. These are the kids who the parent know are just fine but appear to be running the family when it comes to bedtime…
Like adults, kids develop habits and learn quite early the “cause and effect” theory. They learn when they call out, get up, cry, complain, or scream you will jump up and be there… “Johnny on the spot” or “are you kidding me?” response. If you don’t mind getting up or going into their room several times a night to resettle them, go ahead and resettle them as many times as they “need” you. If you find yourself frustrated, aggravated or angry, something needs to be done. It not only is aggravating to you as the parent, but the child is also aggravated because there are no clear-cut boundaries on what is expected of them.
The two most important factors in getting and keeping kids in their own bed effortlessly and enjoying bedtime, is routine and consistency without negative emotion. Easier said than done…until you get the routine down and it becomes customary to the entire family.
I recommend “bed-time” beginning one hour prior to when you want the child to be asleep. Yes, one hour (or at the very least 30 minutes). This establishes a routine for young kids as well as school-age children that will continue through adolescence when adapted age appropriately and routinely followed.
To begin, during the specified time spent as the bedtime ritual, all devices are turned off and out of sight. This includes cell phones, devises, computer games, x-box, etc. Phones are “docked” at a specified docking station as in the kitchen area. This sets the stage for the adolescent years and where the phones will be placed at night. Parents, you can always reunite with your phones and devices, but “docking” your device with your children’s devices sends out a clear message this time with your kids is important and non-negotiable. This time includes bath time, teeth brushed, a snack and drink, potty, diaper change, reading, reviewing completed homework, night light on, discussion of day, choosing clothes for the next day, sitting out prepared backpacks or items needed for school, flash cards, devotional reading, back rubbing or scratching, straightening room, putting dirty clothes in laundry basket, straightening bathroom, prayers, hugs, kisses, or basically getting ready for the next morning. Children as young as two-years old can participate in this process and will learn quickly this routine. Preform a quick check list in your mind insuring the items that need to be completed, are completed so your child won’t remind you 10 minutes after they are put in bed!
Remind your child what you expect. “We have done all of our night time stuff and I will see you in the morning.” You can add, “If I have to come in here for a silly reason, I will need to shut your door, so let’s not call me in here and sleep comfortably”.
You have spent dedicated time with your child and now he or she is tucked in, dry, clean, belly full, teeth brushed, night light on, favorite teddy, rules reminded, and so on. Then the “call out” begins…
Children will generally use the “call out” method that they must have learned in utero! The “call out” we have all experienced with kids. They “need” something and tend to become extremely creative with what they need and why. When you know your child is okay and you have spent the time needed, parents are much more likely not to feed into the games, excuses, and manipulation their sweet precious child is trying to pull over on them. Kids should typically fall asleep within 15 minutes, and if they don’t on a regular basis, you may want to adjust their bedtime to 15 minutes later.
Now comes the difficult part. Decide now what you are going to do when the “call out” happens. Decide this with your spouse and agree or if you are a single parent, decide yourself. Meaning, decide if you want to give the child “one pass” where you respond one time to the request and check on the child but state a consequence for the next time there is a call out the same evening. Or don’t allow “one pass” and ignore the call out totally.
The consequence for both the “one pass” and no pass being, “I will shut your door if you call me in here and the door will be shut until you can stay in your bed” making direct eye contact with your child. You can add, “I know you are a big boy and you will make the right decision and not call me in here again tonight good night and I love you” and exit the room!
If the child calls you again or gets out of bed, return the child to his bed and say, “I love you, it is bed time, and I am closing the door until you can stay in your bed.” Repeat this each time and open the door when the child remains in bed.
The key to this method is to use a matter of fact dull tone when speaking. No emotion. No anger, sympathy, or soothing comments. Use eye contact and repeat the exact statement each time (even when you want to jerk a knot in them), walk out, and gently shut the door!
Kids who tend to be drama queens or kinds can work themselves up and become or create a red in the face, kick, scream, snotty face, sweat, a tantrum, extreme tears, and sometimes even throw- up. Let it all these behaviors go unless they do throw-up, and if they do, return to the room and calmly clean it up and leave. Don’t feed into the drama be in center stage with them in their well-acted dramatic play.
Some kids transform into the Incredible Hulk and begin tearing their rooms up, throwing things, kicking and screaming. When this happens, begin by using the “shut the door” technique. Most kids who have already transformed into the Hulk will only get worse. Let them. If you hear they escalate, return and take the toy they just threw and tell them, “I am taking this toy and putting it in a safe place until you can learn how to respect it”. Take it and put in your trunk, start a trash bag to take to your attack, neighbors or family member when you and your child can deliver it later. Continue this if you must until your car trunk is full of toys. If they are kicking or screaming, you can do the same thing by stating, “I see you are out of control, so I am taking your toys and putting them in a safe place, so you will not destroy them”. Then, do it. This works well with taking lamps, chairs, etcetera out of the room because the child is shocked with your behavior.
Start the next day out positive! Even though you are dog tired, miserable, and feel like last night must have been part of a horrible night mare, be positive and state, “I am betting we don’t repeat what went on last night” or “I see you are tired this morning and don’t want to have another difficult night tonight, go to bed and stay in bed like I know you can and you won’t be so tired.” Then move forward with your day. Do not feed into what we do as parents and give precious excuses with, “Oh he was up too late and really tired” when he throws himself in the floor with a tantrum or his teacher tells you he had a “bad day”. Recalling the day with your child and stating, “You seemed really tired today so let’s get to bed without all the nonsense tonight” can remind the child of the boundaries you have instilled.
Some professionals suggest a chart where put stickers each time the child sleeps in his own bed. I have a difficult time with this. I’m not one to reward kids for behavior that should be expected. Going to bed, resting, and obeying boundaries should be a given…Routines are meant to instill boundaries and self-control that follow a child into their adult years.