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My four-year-old thinks of a hundred excuses at bedtime, from a drink of water, to one last kiss, to boogie men in the closet. Where should I draw the line?
Procrastinating at bedtime is a common ploy of young children. The more children we raised, the more we observed that children do what they do in order to meet their needs. Unless they are angry or have a distant parent-child relationship, kids don't use bedtime ploys deliberately to annoy parents. There are three reasons why children don't want to go to bed: fear of going to sleep, not wanting to be separated from parents, and wanting more "quality time" with their parents. Because of changing lifestyles, rigid bedtimes are not as common or as realistic as they used to be. Decades ago, when most families lived in rural settings, the family got up early, worked together most of the day, and went to bed together early in the evening. Because today's parents are so busy and often do not have much time with their children during the day, children put their bid in for prime time with mom and dad at night. The before- bed hour may be the only time during the whole day she has your focused attention. If so, relax and enjoy it with her. Unfortunately, this is difficult for parents, since in the late evening children are tired and not the most fun to be with, you're tired, and you would like some couple time or time just for yourself.
Children are especially prone to procrastinate bedtimes following a family upset, such as the arrival of a new baby, change of daycare or caregivers, or one or both parents returning from a trip. It's unlikely that your child is being stubborn or disobedient. Most likely she is just angling for more time with you. Take this as a compliment, yet there reaches a point when your child needs to go to bed and you need some time for yourself.
Sleep is not a state you can force a child into. It must naturally overtake the child. Here are some suggestions on creating a sleep-inducing environment to help wind down your wide-awake child and save some evening time for yourself.
The way your child goes to bed is more important than when he goes to bed. If you are a busy family and don't have much time with your child during the day, a later bedtime may be more realistic. Yet, children do better when they have consistent bedtimes rather than sometimes staying up late and other times being put to bed early.
TUCK ME IN, DAD
Little minds are in a receptive state at bedtime. Bedtime stories can reflect on the day and neatly tuck in a little teaching. Your growing-up years can make some great stories. Surround your child with pleasant thoughts and admirable values as she drifts off to sleep. Do this night after night and these bits of wisdom will be filed away in her library of experiences. Years later these bedtime lessons will be an important influence in her life. Bedtime prayers are a time-honored tradition effective for smoothing out the wrinkles of life and for passing on parental values and beliefs.
A word of advice: Even though their eyes are closing, children's ears are very keen to follow a story. A seven-year-old friend of ours instructs his mother to "Keep reading – I can still hear you even when I'm sleeping."
It takes me an hour to put our four-year-old to bed. She finally goes to sleep, but by this time I'm too exhausted to get anything else done.
Get behind the tired eyes of your child. First, take your child's bedtime attachment to you as a compliment. She likes being with you and doesn't want to give up the delights of the day.
Consider if your child needs more attachment rituals during the day. Children seem to recognize they benefit from a certain amount of touch time each day in order to thrive. They learn very quickly that bedtime gives them this opportunity. Try to give your child the attention she craves during the day.