Every night, we had a routine. My daughter would take a bath and play in the bubbles for about 30 minutes. She would hop out and don a monster bath towel, running around the house and growling at everyone. We would comb her hair, brush her teeth and then sit down to read roughly three books. Sounds pretty standard, right?
Two kisses goodnight, night light on, make sure the closet is closed. Then my daughter would get out of bed for the first time, normally to use the rest room again. About fifteen minutes later she would need another drink. If we gave her water for her bedside table, she would decide she needed milk. Next would come the requests for a different stuffed animal, followed by fear of bad guys under the bed. After a couple hours of requests from her and a whole lot of frustration on my part, my daughter might finally pass out. By then I was ready to pull out my hair and possibly guilty about raising my voice.
This was our nightly routine.
Finally, my husband and I decided that we had enough. We didn’t know what we needed to do, but we were positive that something had to change. Mostly for my sanity’s sake.
One night, after bath time and books, I looked at my daughter and asked, “Are you sleepy, Bean? Are you ready to go to bed?” It was 8 o’clock, our standard bedtime.
“No,” my daughter admitted. “I really want to play, Mama.”
I looked down at my daughter and made a decision, mostly out of desperation and a serious need to relax. “Alright babe, you play and let me know when you’re ready for bed. I won’t make you lay down now. But once you decide you’re sleeping, you aren’t allowed to get up.”
My daughter was delighted by the idea of choosing her own bedtime. She felt like a big kid, playing in her room when it was dark outside. She giggled incessantly. I figured that if she was going to be up until 10pm every night, at least this way we wouldn’t be stressed and crazy. I was resigned to being a terrible parent who couldn’t enforce a bedtime.
Then, something kind of miraculous happened. About 30 minutes later, my daughter walked out of her room and told me she was ready for bed. It was 8:30pm and she actually wanted to lay down. I got her tucked in, still weary that she would be getting out of bed for the next hour. I gave her a kiss, turned out the light and waited in the living room for the inevitable requests and protests.
Nothing. Never have I appreciated the quietness of my house so much.
At first, I was hesitant to rejoice in our success. It seemed like a fluke. Surely it couldn’t be this easy. Soon she would be choosing to stay up until 11pm, I thought. And yet, every night between 8:30 and 9:00, my daughter would walk out of her room with her blanket and proclaim that she was ready to be tucked in. With very few exceptions, she would stay in bed all night long, without a single complaint of bad guys or full bladders.
Our night time madness was cured, all because my daughter got to choose exactly when to lay herself down.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this system will work for every family. I’m not naive enough to assume that every child will respond to the same tactics. It’s possible that I have the only child in the world who won’t abuse her new power and stay up til midnight. Doubtful, but possible. But I am saying that it worked for us.
For all you parents struggling out there with nightly bedtime drama and too many frustrated evenings, mix it up. Try a new approach. Maybe you’ll find your own sneaky system to get your little one in bed. I’m just happy we found a new routine that works for us.