Once you have your own act together on getting enough sleep, you can see about your children’s night-time habits.
What would it take for your children to look forward to bed-time?
For mine it is the promise of the next chapter of our bedtime story, and this is true for all three of them, even the teenager.
I would love to say that we tidy-up every evening but we don’t. How lovely it would be to start each day with order downstairs but it only happens on those evenings when there are no activities, which are few. In our house the bedtime story is a precious time to snuggle and wind-down and it is the promise of this that gets us all scampering upstairs. Each child has their own chapter book and I read to each one in turn, one chapter if it is late, two if we made it upstairs early. This means that it is lights out for the youngest first, then our middle child, and finally our teenager. After the story, in the semi-dark, sometimes leads naturally into talking about things…
I was a child who resisted bed-time, found it hard to go to sleep, and hated lying in bed awake. When my children have struggled to settle, I have taught them relaxation techniques that they have then used for themselves, in the strange environment of a sleep-over for example:
Am I warm enough?
Do I need to the toilet or a drink?
Find a comfortable position in which to lie and close my eyes.
Take my thoughts to my toes and feel them getting heavier, then the soles of my feet, the tops of my feet, my ankles, my shins, my calves, and so on up the body.
Then listen my breath, in, out, in, out, in, out…
This may be enough, but if not then imagine every breath filling the whole body, and every breath out emptying the body. Again, you can visit each body part, breathing out the tension throughout.
A lavender pillow can be lovely.
We have also learned that:
We sleep better if we go to bed at roughly the same time every night and wake around the same time every morning.
We do not have too much to eat or sweet things just before bed.
We make time for a soothing bed-time routine.
No toys, television, computer in the bedroom.
We have a good bed, nice pillow, and clean sheets in a dark, quiet, aired room.
Share your bedtime rituals – I would love to learn more.
I think we are better at making good bedtimes for littler children as they so clearly need our help to get settled at night, and we so clearly need that time without them in the evenings. Older children can settle themselves but I believe many often appreciate our company and attention at bedtime, just as they did when they were little. I have made a new habit of going upstairs with my teenager and pottering about while he prepares for bed, just so that I can wish him good night and switch out his main light. I find this hard when it interrupts my own evening, or time with my husband, but it seems to strengthen my relationship with my teenager at a time that it seems important for it to be strong. It is also a definite improvement on the sour ending to a day that comes from a nightly battle with a teen over bedtime. Besides, despite being a night owl all my life, I have recently switched to having my own special time in the early mornings.
The challenge with teenage bedtimes is that puberty brings a change in their circadian rhythms which gears them to stay up later in the evening and to wake later in the morning, whilst still needing nine or so hours sleep at night. This coincides with their impulse to determine for themselves when the right time is for bed. This is not a winning combination – a desire to stay up late, a need to sleep long, but often the requirement to rise early for school.
I have found that if I am willing to give a couple of evenings over to spending time with my teenager, going up to the bedroom early together to read a book and maybe chat, then at least that is a couple of evenings that a good length of time is spent asleep. It can prove utterly worthwhile in terms of mood and our interactions the following day.
Establishing good habits is a life-time gift that you can give to your children.
Small changes can make a big difference…