Strategies to stop bedtime battles

It seems like many evenings of the week it is a constant battle to get our kids into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and get into bed.

We have been struggling a lot with conflicts, arguments and meltdowns with our children each evening as we approach bedtime.

I’m not sure what it is but it seems like many evenings of the week it is a constant battle to get our kids into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and get into bed. The struggle to get home after work, pick up the kids from after-school care,  get through dinner and other tasks is already a lot.

When we have to get after them numerous times to get ready for bed and repeat ourselves for what feels like the 10th time, my husband and I end up losing our tempers. Neither of us like the pattern we see developing but we never seem to get around to doing something different.

We need a more peaceful end to an already busy and challenging day. Can you help?

Thank you for your letter. This is a struggle that will resonate with many parents.

Everyone struggles with bedtimes at one stage or another and there are no shortages of suggestions for kids of all ages available on the Internet.

I am not sure how old your children are or what your daily routine is like but it sounds like everyone is busy and tired at the end of the day. When we are tired, we are generally not functioning at our best and this is true for both our children and ourselves. Bedtime can become a battleground as a result.

There are no easy solutions to this challenge and what works for one family may not work for yours. Moreover, some strategies may work some of the time and not work at other times.

What is happening during this time is also different for each family.

Sometimes children are just having difficulty slowing down after a busy day and need some help to do this. Sometimes we are tired and reactive and are responding to our children in ways that are not helping them make the transition.

Sometimes our children need time to connect with us and they are trying to do this in less than ideal ways. Sometimes we are all just trying to get through the tasks so we can finally take a break.

Many times it is all of these things.

Working at slowing down, connecting and supporting the transition from activity to bed during these times is key. In the end it becomes a process of working together and building an individualized approach that works for your family.

Something to keep in mind as you work to find a solution to your challenge is that bedtime is not the time to try and figure out what to do. Everyone is tired then and we are not often thinking as well as we may be able to at other times of the day.

Because of this it is important to build a plan for the bedtime routine before we get to bedtime. You may have already tried this but if not then try to sit down as a family at a time when everyone is better equipped and talk about what the challenges are and how everyone is going to work together to address them.

Build a plan for bedtime that lays out the expectations, routine and what is going to happen when the expectations are not met. Then try it out and follow it as best you can.

If the plan does not work at first, sit down again and work through the process and address what is not working. The plan often has to go through a few iterations before we work out one that is effective.

Routines and rituals help children regulate themselves and feel successful as they work to master transitions. They help children anticipate what is coming up and what is expected next of them.

Having it sorted out before bedtime arrives means no one has to think about what is going to happen and what needs to be done if things are not going well. Making that routine explicit by discussing it together at a different time helps involve the children in taking some responsibility for making the routine succeed.

It also provides you and your family the opportunity to think about what is happening during those times that is not working for each of you.

In the end, whatever you come up with will eventually work provided you have a specific plan, you have worked together to create it, you have considered what everyone’s needs are during these times and you adjust it together as you go.

Whether it is introducing things to help everyone slow down, making things more predictable, taking more time to connect after a busy day,  all of these things, or something else, taking some time when you are not frustrated, tired and overwhelmed to figure it out together will make a difference.

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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