When my son was almost four, he hit a snag about going to bed. He had been in a good phase with bedtime, and then suddenly he wasn’t. When it was time to get ready there was always one last thing to do, one more snack or drink of water, and lots of distracting wigglyness while we were doing the bedtime routine.
By his bedtime, I am usually physically and mentally exhausted and not the most patient parent in the world. I found myself getting really agitated and sometimes downright angry that he was not cooperating. It was my job to get him ready for bed, and my husband would take over for the stories and cuddles before sleep. Some nights I would reach the end of my patience and hand my husband the toothbrush, “YOU do it.” Of course, that would hurt my son’s feelings and I would always end up feeling regretful that I didn’t have more patience.
My husband started reading a wonderful book I had given him, “Playful Parenting” by Laurence Cohen, and one night he came up with a great idea.
When it was time to start getting ready for bed, I made the announcement and instead of hearing the usual resistance from my son, my husband started in, “Oh! Do we have to? We were having so much fun! I still want to build a train track and eat another bowl of cereal.” Our boy’s eyes lit up with amusement. My husband went on, “I’m not ready for bed. I want to play Legos and watch a monster truck video on you tube!” He was listing many of the things they like to do together. Our son was now laughing and looking at daddy with glee. “What else do you want to do, Daddy?”
As my husband went on with a ridiculous list of things, my son started to take on the enforcer role. “No, Daddy, we can’t do that. It’s time for bed.” Daddy would have more requests and I would watch and giggle while my son would firmly say, “No. We must get ready now.” We were all having a lot of fun with this approach.
Eventually, my son led Daddy by the hand to the bedroom and said, “You go to bed!”, and he and I went on to the bathroom laughing. He got changed and washed up and let me help him with the tooth brushing with humor and ease.
The next night, when it was time to get ready, he looked over at Daddy and said, “Is there anything you want to do?” and my husband got the hint and started making his list of demands and we laughed and my son took charge again. We did this night after night. Always with Daddy pleading not to go and listing all the things he loves to do, and my son giggling, and then taking authority of the situation.
We kept doing this by his request until he stopped initiating the game at night. The real outcome is that the bedtime routine stayed easy, even after the game faded out!
Having a power struggle at bedtime is hard on everyone. By using Playlistening, my son could save face and get to practice having some power in the situation, which small children rarely do. I am so grateful that my husband could come up with a loving and playful approach to our problem when I was at the end of my rope. It was such a relief to us all.
Heidi Grainger Russell is Certified Instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting.