“She finally gave up the fight”
“Yes, we won!”
“Don’t let them win”
“Is he good?”
We often use these kinds of phrases about even the most peaceful of bedtimes as we try our best to lull and soothe our little ones to sleep. The language of conflict often gets used even more when we are struggling, and it feels true. We feel like we were fighting for them to sleep, and that they were fighting against us.
Now, few of us are genuinely adopting military tactics in our children’s bedtimes (unless we are going out, when we plan their bedtimes using every ounce of strategy we possess, only to see those go the least to plan!) But there’s nothing wrong with the phrase “bedtime battles,” right? It’s just a phrase. We don’t really rule our children under martial law. No, of course we don’t, but that isn’t really the point.
Is this really what we know about how our children behave though? When they are distressed, this is not them employing a tactic against you. They are expressing that they are not OK, that they have a need that isn’t met. They are not winning by being miserable and angry. This is not what they want, they are not fighting you, they are communicating. When we are in battle mode, we tend to be focussed on the outcome “getting them to sleep” and not on the process. When we are focussed on getting to the end goal, of winning, of sleeping children, we often sacrifice a lot of our gentleness, our respect and our patience. Now, it isn’t only our battle mentality that contributes to a lack of patience at bedtimes. We are usually also exhausted and looking forward to some grown up conversations, a sit down, a break from the constant needs of our children. But the effect is that right at the time that we need our children to be the calmest, we are at our most stressed, and tend to read motivations and manipulations that are not there into their behaviour. It doesn’t take a lot of bedtimes like this before a child is expecting bedtime to be distressing either, so we can create this self-fulfilling and repeating battle scenario that makes it a more stressful and miserable experience all round.
Winners and losers
The big problem with bedtime battles is that if we win the other side loses. The other side is our child. That little human we nurture all day becomes our opponent when the lights go out and they have no idea why. I don’t want my child to end everyday a loser, I want them to tell me about their day to let them decompress, to feel them relax into me as they let go of their worries and their questions, rest into music or stories, snuggle into the blankets and my arms and drop off. I don’t want them to pick up my tension, or feel rushed to sleep. Have you ever tried to get to sleep as fast as you can? It is a recipe for fidgeting and frustration for me so I can’t imagine it helps them much. Our understanding of the brain supports this. The more pressure we put them under, the more stress we cause, the more cortisol (our alert system hormone) is produced, which supresses our production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Our children don't sleep, we can't relax and everyone is a loser.
Good guys and bad babies
This “battle” mentality begins right from day one, as we have seen demonstrated in the press recently with the birth of a royal baby. On the second day of his life, little Archie Harrison had his character put in question, directly in relation to the way that he sleeps. When sleep is a battle, we have good guys and bad guys. It becomes socially acceptable to publicly ask if a two-day old baby is “good”. I assure you, he is good and he is not sleeping through the night.
We can all be winners
If you are struggling with bedtimes check out the map to find your local consultant or sleep workshop. Our consultants help you find ways to deescalate bedtime stress and work together for calmer sleep all round.