Dear David Coleman: My sons' night-time high jinks are winding me up
Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.
Q. Our seven and nine-year-olds are disastrous for going to bed. Tonight I put them to bed at 8.30pm because they were bold last night. At 11.15pm they were still turning on lights, shouting and fighting. I ended up sitting in the bedroom, wooden spoon in hand until they settled. We are sick of the fact we cannot sit down at 9pm after both working. I just can't understand why they won't settle? Our nine-year-old demands attention, whether it be good or bad, but yet loves good attention. How can I make them see the positive of good behaviour?
David replies: You sound like you have two very 'live wires'! I am assuming that there is a good reason why they share a room. If you had the space and the opportunity, you may find that adopting a "divide and conquer" approach could be very successful, since it does sound like they wind each other up.
I do hope, too, that even though you had a wooden spoon in hand you had no intention of using it?! I would strongly recommend that whatever else you do, you avoid going down the road of physical punishment to try to deal with their night-time high jinks. Hitting children is never right and does real long-term emotional harm, alongside the shorter-term physical harm.
So, leave the wooden spoon in the drawer from now on.
You definitely sound like you are at the end of your tether by bedtime. I noted your comment that it is really frustrating not to be able to enjoy a bit of downtime, after 9pm, once they are in bed. I think there are many parents who might share your frustration!
That said, I think you might need to take a different approach to the bedtimes. Does your presence in the room (without the wooden spoon!) lead them to be calmer, or at least allow you to intervene before they get too wound up? If so, then this might be the starting point for getting them settled easier.
You may need to invest six to eight weeks in changing the current bedtime routine to something that is more effective. The benefit of that investment, however, will hopefully be a time where you can just put them up to bed, check on them a couple of times and then have your much-needed 'me-time' while they sleep.
To start, keep the 8.30pm bedtime. I know you said it was only as a punishment that they were going to bed then, but, actually, getting into bed at 8.30pm, and some time to wind down with stories or reading, will be good for them. Part of their high jinks at night may be the result of getting a second wind. They might just be going to bed too late.
So, from 8pm, the focus is on getting ready for bed, changing into PJs, brushing teeth and using the bathroom. Then, at 8.30pm, make it your expectation that they will be in bed. Be really firm, but in a clam, warm way. The reward for them, for being in bed at that time, is that you will read a story to them.
You may have gotten out of the habit of reading to them, but I think they will really enjoy having this time with you.
Ensure they are snuggled in their own beds, sit in between them (bring in a comfy chair, cushions or beanbag for yourself) and then enjoy the opportunity to connect with them.
Shared reading can be a very nourishing experience for children and parents. Sometimes children just needs lots of this kind of positive connection before they buy into it.
After the story time, switch out the light, but stay sitting between them. This allows you to monitor and interrupt any giddiness that may emerge. In practice, though, I think they will know that playtime is well over because you are there to monitor things.
Keep this routine up for about three weeks, until they are well in the habit of falling to sleep within about 15 or 20 minutes of the light going off.
This means that for a heavy investment of about an hour or so in their bedtime, you'll have earned time for you once they are asleep.
Once they are in a good habit of sleeping while you are in the room, you can then begin a gradual process of moving out of the room at bedtime, giving time at each stage for them to become used to the new routine.
Health & Living