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picking battles and bedtime

(18 Posts)
kitbit Sun 03-Aug-08 09:42:02

ds is 3.5 and has started a new phase hmm
Immediate and massive meltdown happens if anything at all is "wrong" at bedtime. It begins with "I don't want to go upstairs because then I won't be able to play any more", so we've been overdoing the bedtime triggers - big and explicit countdown to milk drink, big countdown to number of cartoons during milk, going upstairs, having bath etc. This has improved it, but if during the bath you let the plug out when he's not quite ready, or lift him out before he's wanting to come, meltdown. Not a tantrum, just throwing himself onto the bed and ignorning me, shouting at me, or rolling away, pulling away and hiding his face and sobbing. I can't seem to help him through it at all.

I can talk to him up to a point, he'll tell me I've made him sad, but getting to the point where he gets over it and calms down is nigh on impossible and can take a couple of hours during which time he's wound up and overtired.

I do try and pick battles, and I feel that to take him to the thinking spot or threaten to cancel nice activity etc would be counterproductive as he can't snap himself out of it and it would just escalate the whole thing, but how on earth do I break the pattern? Is this just normal 3 year old stuff? I've tried humour, ignoring it, have tried giving in and giving "one more minute" here and there but it's just prolonging the inevitable for one more minute as he still won't be ready! Am also aware that he's going through a phase of testing boundaries and trying to have more control over his world which I understand and accept, but still am at a loss over how to break this bedtime pattern.

Sorry, am rambling. Anyone got any thoughts??!

yawningmonster Sun 03-Aug-08 10:22:52

We have both a morning and a night time "list" Night time has
time...pjs on (with little picture0
time...teeth (picture)
time...bath (picture)
time...stories (picture)
time...lights down
I have found that if I say things like...check your list and see what happens next helps take it away from me saying "It is time to...." He loves it as he feels as though he can read it himself etc. I also find that on the nights when he is not coping it is because of overtiredness and then the next few I bring the time foward (list is laminated and we write the time on depending on these contingencies and also he can negotiate a little eg choose to do bath before teeth, or have an extra story if he has done everything on list particularly nicely which pushes lights out slightly later. It helps that we write the time as it appears on his little clock so he can match them up too. I hope this all makes sense but in essence we have tried to give him a little control, and given him a prompt that is a little seperated from us.

kitbit Sun 03-Aug-08 12:25:06

I like the idea that the list is a separate thing from you, I think that might help actually, as I think part of it is that he feels steered by us all day and wants to get away from that a bit. How old is your ds, YM?

TheProvincialLady Sun 03-Aug-08 12:47:41

I can't help but think that cartoons during milk are a bit stimulating for that time of the evening. They are so manic they are likely to be winding him up. How about stories (by story tape if you are too busy)?

kitbit Sun 03-Aug-08 13:03:21

TheProvincialLady, I know what you mean, but we always pick something like Postman Pat or Fireman Sam or something very young and quite gentle, and it seems to chill him out rather than the reverse. It's been a long standing part of bedtime and when we first did it it was to get him to sit still by distraction so that he would drink all his milk! We then go upstairs for stories as well so it isn't that there isn't time, just that it's already part of his recognised route to bed iyswim

mumfor1standmaybe2ndtime Sun 03-Aug-08 13:18:53

If ds started to throw a wobbly about something (and he does!)I would do my best to ignore it. Just walk away and tidy the bathroom or do something to distract yourself. I wouldn't want him to think his actions were affecting me or that he was getting your attention in a negative way. (ds is also 3.5)There is only so much talking you can do.
Also agree with the cartoons, we usually sit in his bed together with stories and a few sips of milk before tucking him in.

onwardandupward Sun 03-Aug-08 14:03:19

How about letting him do the whole bedtime script at his own pace? It's the summer holidays, right? So it doesn't matter if he's half an hour or an hour later to bed than usual (or you could always start the script that bit earlier so he's not hurried at any point)

kitbit Sun 03-Aug-08 15:03:42

Really really really the cartoons are not a problem, if anything they start off the bedtime process well as it is sitting down time, mindless distraction and milk. It also heralds the bedtime routine so is good at the moment as more warning of something happening seems to be helping.
After that we go up for a bath (not rushed), then have stories (2 or 3 usually) and a chat about the day, then lights out. I have also been letting the time be a bit more flexible as yes, it's the hols, but I am wondering if this is part of the problem, and whether he needs things to be a bit more predictable at the moment.

Pheebe Sun 03-Aug-08 16:54:38

Talking is fine but it strikes me that you need to draw some lines about what is acceptable behaviour here. It is OK to get cross you know. Kids judge whether their behaviour is acceptable or not based on our behaviour/reactions. Being cross doesn't have to mean, telling off or punishment just firm, straight talking.

We have found that firmly giving ds1 (nearly 4) the choice of doing things the happy way of the sad way works 99.9% of the time. He knows he's crossed the acceptable line and has the choice of whether to continue with his beahviour and go to bed without all the 'nice' stuff or to have a nice bedtime cuddle up.

Do not plead with him and do not allow his behaviour to persist for 2 hours. You are in control of the situation and you decide what happens and when.

Sorry if this sounds harsh but I really believe you don't do your kids any favours by negotiating everything. Sometimes they just have to do as they are told. Gives them a sense of security too.

onwardandupward Sun 03-Aug-08 17:12:52

I really disagree with that. Children have so little power over what they do in a day, that the more parents can bear to hand back the reins to them the better off everyone is.

"You decide what happens and when" is just not true. If a child decides they are really unhappy about what you are trying to force them to do, then they will be unhappy. And then what? you tell them their emotions are forbidden??? If a person isn't even permitted to feel or to express their emotions honestly, what the f*k is left for them?

kitbit, only you can decide whether your child needs more flexibility or less to be happy about bedtime. I wonder whether just the old "I see you are unhappy that the day is over. Shall we have a lovely chat about all the things you'd like to do tomorrow?" conversation might work? And of course making sure he's not in the middle of something when you start the bdtime script.

Pheebe Sun 03-Aug-08 17:49:18

At 3 yo kids cannot be expected to make informed decisions about everything in their life. They simply don't have the experience or maturity. They need boundaries and they need parents not psychotherapists!! When children are given too many choices they become overloaded and 'lost'. I could go into the psychodevelopmental reasons for this but won't here.

My kids get plenty of age-appropriate choices within safe and healthy boundaries.

"I see you are unhappy that the day is over. Shall we have a lovely chat about all the things you'd like to do tomorrow?" is not going to get a tantruming 3 yo out of the bath and into their pjs hmm

kitbit Sun 03-Aug-08 18:20:35

Pheebe, yes, I understand that it's OK to be cross and I have tried that, which is why I have come sort of full circle with it: getting cross or impatient at bedtime just makes him even more upset (not tantrummy, but really deeply upset) and then the whole things takes even longer as we have to then calm down, and start again. That's my initial dilemma really, and why I was explaining at the start that I'm trying to pick my battles.

He does seem happier when I let him have choices (controlled, age appropriate etc of course, I don't let him rule the household or anything!) but the issue here I think is keeping the bedtime actual time more constant as I'm wondering whether his body clock is the problem.

But the initial question is still how to help him through this without getting cross which makes it a hundred times worse? aargh it's nearly bedtime...

onwardandupward Sun 03-Aug-08 18:45:54

No, Pheebe, I absolutely agree that trying to have an "express-your-feelings" conversation with a tantrumming three year old is unlikely to get them out of the bath and into pyjamas. But there might be occasions when that is exactly the right conversation to have. Perhaps when the parent says "bed time!" and child says "awwwww, noooo..."

I'm not a big fan of validating feelings and then going on doing to the children whatever I was going to do anyway, tbh. Never seems to work for me. But lots of other people wax lyrical about it as a way of proceeding. [ shrugs ]

I gave up on bedtimes entirely some time ago, when it became apparent that parentally induced bedtimes got everyone in a complete stress and didn't ever seem to result in children falling asleep within an hour of the time I thought was a sensible time. So I backed right off and relaxed, and now help our children to learn and follow their own cues of tiredness (and of course I act on those cues with them, to help them as needed). Bed times fluctuated wildly for a little while, but really very young children can quickly learn to sense and appreciate their own cues of tiredness.

This is a very common approach among the unschooling community - actually, I think there's a nice Sandra Dodd page on it... yes, it's here with some lovely testimonials from families who live this way.

I'm guessing Pheebe won't like this post... grin

juuule Sun 03-Aug-08 19:59:36

Another article on it from Joyce Fetterol.

Sandra Dodds site and Joyce fetterols are really good reads. Lots of sense on there - imo.

juuule Sun 03-Aug-08 19:59:48

Another article on it from Joyce Fetterol.

Sandra Dodds site and Fetterols are really good reads. Lots of sense on there - imo.

juuule Sun 03-Aug-08 20:00:02

Sorry for the double post.

onwardandupward Sun 03-Aug-08 21:18:45

Oh yes, that's a lovely Joyce Fetterol article. Go there before Sandra Dodd - it's more coherent. I love Joyce Fetterol's site but somehow I always forget that it exists...

Pheebe Sun 03-Aug-08 22:23:32

Onward I think thats a lovely post grin I'm on a high having just been to see my mum whos had a triple bypass and is about to be released from ICU grin grin

Each to their own, and whatever works for you I say smile

Back to the OP, perhpas 'cross' was the wrong word, I rarely get cross with my boys more 'stern' and directive, this is how its going to be, lots of smiles, make it fun, isn't this great, isn't the next thing we're going to do wonderful. With a healthy dose of patience as they complete each stage. This works for us because given free reign DS1 would never go to bed, he'd sleep very little, be crotchety, and eventually ill (most kids are chronically sleep deprived apparently adn it affects their health and concentration) so I do decide bedtimes and direct bedtimes but don't get stressed if they aren't asleep within the hour. Going to bed and going to sleep aren't the same thing in our house, once in bed they are allowed their light on and time for quiet play/reading or whatever until they are tired and ready to sleep. If I judge its getting too late, the lights get lower and lower then off til we all go to bed.

bit of a ramble but hope theres something in there you find useful

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