Does your child put up a fight around going to bed every night? Does bedtime end in tears no matter how calm and comfortable you try and make things? Do you hate that distress and wonder if it'll ever end? Do you dream about kissing your child goodnight and gently closing the door as he or she falls peacefully to sleep?
Read on to learn why children resist going to sleep, and six ways you can support them so that they feel happier going to bed.
Listening to a child cry every night feel like the worst. You wish you had the words or the power to calm things. And that crying is draining and exhausting.
Yet, as long as you are relaxed, confident, warm and beaming him with your attention, your child's crying is healing.
Why is this?
When children have big feelings, when they are angry, or over-excited or crying, they are unable to regulate their emotions. Your child's brain, however, can attune to your calm support. which helps them co-regulate and calm themselves.
When a child is melting down, is irritable or losing it, alarms bells are ringing in their heads. To them, it feels for all the world like if they don't get a toy they want, or that they have to be out the door for school, they simply won't survive. You're calm attention and listening tells them that they are safe and that the day can carry on just fine.
At Hand in Hand Parenting, we call this way of responding Staylistening. It does require that you are relaxed, confident and warm, because if you are tense and/or frustrated, your child can sense that and it will exacerbate the fear.
Staylistening helps children learn to regulate with your support. It also helps them work through fears and feelings that trouble them. You will see that as you listen, without saying much at all, your child's upset calms naturally. They become lighter, more eager to please and to participate in the family.
Why Does My Child Cry at Bedtime?
Sometimes, your child acquires big feelings about a certain time or experience. Anything that feels like that past time triggers more big feelings, almost as if they are reliving that past hardship for the first time. Other times they are facing tough times in the present. You may or may not know about what these are.
And so you move in and Staylisten, and things clear. But maybe your child still doesn't seem satisfied, and still isn't happy to comply with your requests. Your child might even seem moody or confused.
Pretty soon your child finds something new to cry about. You child may whine endlessly or deliberately break a rule right in front of you.
It's like they are asking for permission to lose it.
And, in a way, they are.
When your child is working on a big chunk of doubt, or fear, or anxiousness, like this, we call that an emotional project. During emotional projects, you will see lots more tears, crying and upsets.
Very often, these feelings will come through full force at bedtime.
Why? Because bedtime for many children represents separation. Kids who are facing tough times worry they aren't good enough, and may lose your support in the night. All the fears that haunt them in the daytime only get louder and more consuming when they are alone at night.
Understanding this certainly leads to a more compassionate response from us parents, but keeping patient as you work through it together can be tough. Listening can be exhausting. Emotionally draining. It may dredge up lots of your own feelings.
And yet, you need to be there.
How Do I Listen Without Losing it?
Sometimes, you may listen for up to an hour or two each night for a few nights. Understandably, that takes lots of physical and emotional stamina on your part.
It's then that your feelings of worry, of doubt and frustration about your child set in. You feel exhausted. Maybe vulnerable. Soon your feelings burn along this fuse until you reach anger or rage, and you lose it.
It's the very last thing you were trying to achieve. And yet, it happens.
Recently in the Parent Club a mom asked for help when she was finding it hard to stay warm and relaxed while she listened to her son cry at bedtime. She'd done great work trying to understand her child and his upset, but after a few nights of facing insults and tears she felt worn down and defeated.
Six Ways To Handle Bedtime Crying With Calm
The club's instructors Emily and Kathy shared these ideas for getting better resourced in those very tough moments:
- Finding ways to be playful around during the day can help. Pretend to leave the house but walk out the closet door, or set up a game with toys where one is always leaving. Listen to how your child directs this and the feelings they may have about it. Here's some ideas for Playlistening around Separation Fears.
- Increasing Special Time and Rough and Tumble play before bed gives an outlet for your child's feelings earlier, when you may have more capacity to listen calmly.
- Consider an earlier bedtime. You may want to start one or maybe even two hours earlier to allow plenty of time for upsets when you are working on this challenge.
- You may want to hire a babysitter or have a good friend put your child to sleep while you take an emotional break. Your child may fall asleep with them easily and save the feelings for you when you return.
- Getting plenty of support is key to you being able to stay and listen. Use your Listening Partnership to cry or even rave about your child's separation, how you feel about it and how tired you are from it. It can help to toy with the idea that this is never going to end. Of course, that's not the truth, but the fear of that can takeover and bring on those feelings of frustration and doubt.
- Ask yourself if you want to keep Staylistening at bedtime. You might want to try extra connection after lights out instead. Lay with your child. Experiment and see if they would like you to stay until they fall asleep, or give you permission to leave.
Your attention here is meaningful and a long lasting way to help your child conquer those fears. Using these strategies will help you endure those moments at bedtime when your child is offloading through tears and will, ultimately, help emerge a child who is confident and happy about going to sleep.
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