After six years of parenting, bedtime remains a daily nightmare. We have two kids, ages six and (almost) four, so you would think that we would have gotten it under control by now.
The problem isn’t so much our technique, or lack thereof, but rather that our kids are on very different sleep schedules. Our six year old, Ayelet, is just finishing kindergarten. She plays hard throughout the day, and by the time 8:00 pm rolls around, she is exhausted and ready to fall into bed. Once she gets under the covers, it’s rare for her to go more than 10 minutes before she starts snoring loudly. Easy.
The problem is her younger brother, Rafael. He’s in day care, and he also plays hard. He’s an early riser and wakes up more than an hour before his sister in the morning. But, when that 8:00 pm bedtime rolls around, he’s wide awake. We spend the next hour trying to get him to stay in his bed, but he is constantly getting out or calling us into his room for a hug, a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, or anything else he can think of. He won’t let us leave, and so we lose another hour of evening trying to get him to sleep.
Why the difference? He naps at day care.
This nap is just killing us. It fills him up with energy, and even though we are all ready for him to go to bed, he just isn’t tired yet. We’ve worked with the day care to try to limit the length of the naps, but it hasn’t helped much (no nap is not an option there). So, every night we have this hour long battle.
We don’t really have an choice about putting the kids to bed at separate times. They sleep in the same room, and even though Ayelet is very tired, she won’t accept the idea of going to sleep herself while her little brother gets to stay up. So we are at an impasse.
A few weeks ago, my wife was traveling for work and I was solo-parenting. It was already 8:30 pm, my son was still wide awake, and I had a ton to do. The table was a mess from dinner, crumbs were all over the floor, I still had to make the kids’ lunches for the next day, and my son had left toys in the dining room. I was at my wits end trying to get my son to go to sleep and gave up and went downstairs to get started on the kitchen.
Without me to keep him corralled in his room, my son soon followed me downstairs. As I was trying to make the lunches, he started asking me questions about what I was doing.
“Rafael,” I told him, “I’m not talking to you. If you are going to be down here, go pick up your toys and put them away in the living room.”
He promptly picked up all the toys, carried them into the living room and then came back. Hmm…
“Okay, bring all the dishes from the table and put them on the counter here next to me.” Over the next five minutes, he brought all the dishes over to the sink.
I was now finished making lunches and proceeded to start loading the dishwasher. How far could I take this?
“Good job, Rafael. Go to take the little dustpan and sweep up all the crumbs under the table.” He grabbed the dustpan and started to sweep up.
Now, I will be honest, the floor was not spotless by the time he finished. But, there were a lot fewer crumbs on the floor. I deemed it good enough.
Before I knew it, it was nearly 9:00 and the whole kitchen was cleaned up and the chores were completed.
“Okay, Rafael, time for bed.” I went with him upstairs, put him in bed, and tucked him. He immediately turned over, and I didn’t hear from him again.
The alternative was that I would have fought with him as usual about going to bed until 9, and then been doing chores myself until 9:45. Instead, I had him help me from 8:30 to 9, and then we were done.
I wouldn’t exactly call it a bedtime victory – that would be having him getting in bed and staying there – but it wasn’t a bad outcome. Rafael is the kind of kid who likes to help, so if I can make myself a little less frustrated and reclaim some evening time by channeling his helpfulness, so be it.
As it turns out, Rafael is quite good at cleaning up. He even likes to vacuum. Not really what I have in mind after he is supposed to be “in bed”, but sometimes you just have to make the best of a tough situation.