Managing bedtimes with children can quickly become a grinding, daily ordeal of family life or provide a magical moment to end the day, depending on how we approach it.
Managing bedtimes with children holds an important key to unlocking the family happiness we all wish for and here we explore how we’ve come to deal with it.
With my two older children, my wife and I adopted an extremely functional approach. When bedding our children at family gatherings, our relatives could never quite comprehend how contentedly our daughters would take to their beds leaving us to return to the living room to relax. We prided ourselves on our no-nonsense technique which often drew remarks of “Is that it?!” People could never quite believe how quickly we were able to come back downstairs or how happily our children went down, signalling time for us to begin to unwind.
With the first two, I would simply take them to bed, tuck them in, say goodnight, plant a kiss or two on their foreheads then leave, quickly. No guilt, no apology. Our children quickly learned that bedtime was exactly that: time for bed. A hasty departure meant they were never left any room for dragging out the bedtime routine, something I saw in other families and which often appeared to be a reluctant and tiresome chore for already exhausted parents. I know myself well enough to know that if I’m tired and my heart’s not in it, no-ones going to be satisfied by the outcome. While other families were dealing with constant requests for ‘One more story…” we were sitting downstairs relaxing. I would say it’s an excellent recipe for low-maintenance children.
Second time around, we’re experimenting with a different approach where we enjoy the moment and allow ourselves to share a quiet, intimate, reflective bit of magic to conclude the day’s affairs.
Here we explore some ideas about managing bedtimes with children in order to have the most positive experience for parents and children alike.
Of course, there are many activities which can help our children (and us!) to relax and unwind… books, stories and songs can all help to do the trick. Certain books can suit the rhythm of the moment. Some books, usually way beyond the child’s typical reading age, can produce a soporific effect which hastens their falling asleep. Songs can be adjusted for tempo and tone. Reducing the speed of a song is a really effective way to draw things out and calm the moment down, the brain rapidly slows its activity in response to decreasing rhythms. Even “The Wheels on the Bus” can become a soothing lullaby if the tempo is slowly reduced over time, sung ever more quietly.
The thing I feel most drawn to sharing here is the attitude we adopt around bedtime. Children often have an attitude of resistance to sleep, certainly I did until a very late stage in life. I never wanted to miss anything. Falling asleep somehow felt like giving up. I was never taught to luxuriate in the sweet benediction of rest. It was something to be resisted at all costs. It’s only in recent years that I’ve come to value the importance of my own sleep. Only in my role as a parent have I come to fully appreciate the restorative value of the night and to what degree my moods swing in accordance with the amount of rest I’ve had.
Similarly, the value of dreams is something that I’ve only come to fully understand in recent years. These two things, rest and dreams… are now pleasures that I wish to share with my own children. The delightful pleasure of being able to surrender to the body’s need for rest is a wonderful gift to share, one which can stay with us for the rest of our lives. In order to do that, as many insomniacs may be more or less aware, relies on being able to trust. We need to be able to trust our bodies, our minds and life itself. Nothing is more natural and nothing is more essential to the living of a happy life. We need to be able to know that we’ve done our best for the day and that god willing, another day awaits us after the following sunrise. Letting go of the day’s activities is crucial for releasing our grip on our waking reality. This is why a daily review can be another fabulous activity in the lead up to going to sleep.
There are few moments of the day which simultaneously hold such potential for complete chaos and absolute beauty, finding the right way to approach this daily signing off can dramatically impact the serenity of our household and the degree to which our children experience life as truly magic.