Updated: Aug 7
By Alison Westermann, Institute Fellow
Bedtime used to be an enormous fight in my house. As soon as dinner was finished, I began dreading the eventual arguments that came with asking my children to put on their pajamas, brush their teeth, read a couple books and then – horror of horrors – go to sleep.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and we were told to stay home, with only each other for company, for who knows how long, and it gave me a chance to re-evaluate what I’d been doing at bedtime and how I might improve it for my children as well as for myself/my husband. Here’s what I was doing wrong, and here’s what I’ve changed. I am not claiming that I’m any kind of child behavior expert! Far from it! My children are not your children, and these are simply suggestions. If they work for you, great! If not, I hope you find something else that does.
Alison’s Mistake #1: Bedtime is an obstacle to be “gotten through” as quickly as possible.
Pre-Pandemic, I often approached bedtime as a challenge. My children were my adversaries, and I would use whatever tools I had at my disposal to “win” bedtime, which would be measured by how long it took to go from lights-out to asleep. No one wins in this scenario. Now we take our time and I remind myself that we’re not adversaries, we’re a team. Everyone wins together.
Alison’s Mistake #2: Children should be quiet at bedtime!
One of my favorite “mommy bloggers” Bunmi Laditan mentioned that children turn into thirsty philosophers at bedtime, and it’s stuck with me for years! Pre-Pandemic, I would try to shut down and tune out my kids’ chatter, but it turns out that during the pandemic, I’m re-examining that, too. Children’s anxiety is every bit as real as that experienced by grown-ups, and I’m lucky that my kids trust me to help soothe their anxieties. Now more than ever, bedtime is a gift I get to give them– children need to feel safe and secure in order to grow up as whole human beings.
Alison’s Mistake #3: Kids who won’t stay asleep are a reflection of my own failure as a parent.
Before the pandemic, if a kid walked out into the living room while my husband and I were watching our evening TV shows together, I would let out a giant sigh and make my child feel absolutely guilty for interrupting us. My husband still does this, but in a comical way, and it makes us all laugh now! As I mentioned before, children’s anxieties are real, and may wake them or keep them awake. Now, I will take my kids to the kitchen, make a mug of chamomile tea with honey and sit to listen to them as they unload their worries, dreams, nightmares, or flights of fancy. More often than not, it takes only about fifteen minutes before their sleepiness catches up with them and they return to their beds.
Stay tuned for more Parenting in Pandemic Mode posts!