Q: As the school year begins, perhaps the hardest job for me is getting my children to sleep at a decent time. Staying up late in the summer did not affect them much in day camp the next day. But now that we are returning to a more normal schedule, getting them to bed is like pulling teeth. They insist they can manage on less sleep and plead with me to give them a chance to prove it. Can you give me some ideas on how to make bedtime less challenging?
A: Any daily endeavor that involves repetitious details can seem boring to today’s over-stimulated children. That being said, our challenges as parents are different from those faced by parents of previous generations. Having to use singing toothbrushes and a myriad of plastic bathtub “companions” to induce our kids to bathe and brush their teeth bears testimony to this.
While some children resist going to sleep because they are afraid of “missing out” on something, others may avoid bedtime due to fears of the darkness or of nightmares. In either case, parents need to make bedtime — like every other part of life — a positive experience for their children. “B’chol d’rachecha da’eihu — in all of your life’s paths, you should have knowledge of Hashem.” Bedtime, too, is an area where we can show simchah and a positive attitude.
Harav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlita, mentions Napoleon Bonaparte’s great success in conquering lands through continually instilling a sense of simchah and optimism in his soldiers. They would be entertained by musicians and comedians, who inspired them with a sense of hope and victory (V’nichtav Basefer, p. 92).
Simchah breaks through spiritual wars and human limitations. In the same way, simchah can break through power struggles with children (or adults) via humor and creativity. By using innovative ideas, the boring and undesirable can become uplifting and constructive.
When dealing with young children to solve a problem, parents need to speak to them during a “neutral” period in the day — neutral, in the sense that they are not very sad or very happy. People do not want to discuss unresolved issues when they are happy, nor do they want to hear about them when they are already feeling moody or down.
With a young child, a parent can describe how a child’s arms and legs are so tired at night that if they could talk, they would plead, “Please put me to bed.” Then say, “I am speaking for your arms and legs because they can’t talk. I wonder what we can do to help them?”
Bring up the concept of working together on problem-solving techniques. State clearly that you feel very sad when, on a daily basis, transition time to sleep is so fraught with arguments. If children are involved with finding solutions to a problem, they are more apt to follow through with implementing them.
A parent can discuss the importance of going to sleep. What would make it a more pleasant experience? Children might suggest playing a five-minute game with a parent, or reading a story together.
Try to create a positive bedtime ritual which younger children look forward to. During Krias Shema time, a parent can say, “Bubby loves you, Zeide loves you, Mommy loves you, Totty loves you…” or discuss the best thing that happened that day for both of you.
(to be continued…)