I used to have a timer in the laundry room that I would set for five minutes as the “time-out” counter when my kids misbehaved.
One day, my oldest snatched a toy away from his brother and caused him to shriek. When he looked up and realized that I had seen the entire incident, he didn’t plead his case, he didn’t complain, he just walked into the laundry room, set the timer for five minutes, and closed the door behind him.
I’m not trying to brag about my exemplary parenting skills by telling that story. I’m just trying to point out that I uhh… y’know. OK, fine. I’m bragging. That was the result of some seriously diligent parenting and I’m going to strut a little. Sue me.
Seriously though, in a way, that was a wonderful moment, and I owe it all to a good kid, determined parenting, and a consistent, predictable set of rules.
There’s nothing more mundane than the parental bedtime routine, is there? Day in, day out, same old song and dance. It gets a little boring after a very short while when you’re a parent.
Depending, of course, on your definition of “boring.”
Because personally, I find unruly, unpredictable, hair-triggered kids to be anything but boring. Quite the opposite, in fact, which is why I’m fully in support of so-called “boring” bedtime routines.
I don’t mean to say that your routine should be dull and unenjoyable, but it should be a series of events that wind your child down and get him ready for sleep.
Too often, I see parents trying to “wear out” their kids before bed. They’ll have a playful bath with a tub full of toys, read a couple of exciting stories and finish off with some play-wrestling in an attempt to drain their child’s energy.
Unfortunately, as many of us already know, kids defy the laws of thermodynamics and can generate more energy than they consume. Trying to wear them out before bed by running them around is the height of futility.
But whatever your routine is, the single most important rule to stick to is to keep it consistent, and let me tell you why.
Although they don’t always appreciate it, kids thrive on predictability and routine. They need a clear understanding of what’s expected from them or they tend to get anxious, and anxiety before bed is the last thing we want.
As a parent, they’re obviously looking to you for the, “What do we do now?” cues, and the more you can provide them with a stable, repetitive schedule, the more they’ll come to expect it, and the less they’ll concern themselves with it.
But surely you’ve got to throw a little variety in there somewhere, right? If a child shows great behavior all day and wants to stay up past bedtime as a reward, isn’t that a fair deal?
Although it may sound reasonable, it’s just not a good idea. Your child will come to expect that good behavior = later bedtime, and they’ll expect it all the time. After all, if it was valid on Monday, shouldn’t it still apply on Thursday?
Maybe there’s some magical way of explaining the “that was a special occasion” concept to kids in a way that they’ll understand, but if so, I haven’t found it, nor do I know anyone else who has.
I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t be rewarded for good behavior. Only that exceptions to bedtime rules are not a good motivator. Bedtime should be in the same category as brushing teeth and goodnight kisses. Every night, no exceptions, no matter what.
The rewards for consistent rules and routines aren’t always evident in the early going. Kids test boundaries relentlessly, and always telling them “no” can get a little frustrating, wear you down, and make you feel like the bad guy. But hang in there. If you stick to your guns now, you’ll be dealing with far less whining, bargaining and fit-pitching down the road, I guarantee you.
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