Bedtime has become a nightmare in our house lately. My 6 year old son refuses to go to bed. He will take forever to brush his teeth, then he wants multiple stories and songs, he won’t settle down and instead gets ramped up, and if I try to leave the room he melts down completely. If I get to bed before 11pm it’s a miracle and we both end up exhausted in the morning. Please can you help?
Dear Exasperated Parent,
I can imagine how exhausting and frustrating it must be for you, dealing with these bedtime struggles every night. It’s clear how much you care about your son and his well-being and it is really tough when you are also trying to take care of your own needs for rest.
We have found that there are two common issues that contribute to more challenging bedtimes:
1) The first is fear, nightmares, or other worrying thoughts. Children may be afraid of the dark, being alone, big changes in their lives, or something that stressed them out over the course of the day. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of your bedtime routine doing a brain dump may be very helpful to you both. A brain dump is an opportunity to share anything that is occupying space in your head - any thought, worry, fear, stress, anxiety, or discomfort. The key is to hear and hold space for all that is inside to come out, without trying to fix it. For your son, it can offer relief and allow him to feel peace and safety - two important ingredients for restful sleep. And for you, it can provide insight into your son’s experience - helping to enhance your connection with him.
2) The second is dysregulation resulting from an inability to soothe and calm the nervous system. This can show up as meltdowns, anger, being “amped up”, struggling to listen or settle down, greater sensitivity that more easily results in tears, etc. In these cases, offering ways for your son to regulate will be super helpful. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, some kids need to wiggle it out through movement (for example: jumping jacks, running in place, dancing together for 5-10 minutes). For others, helping them feel safe and relaxed can come in the form of a warm bath, co-regulating through cuddles and hugs, listening to calming music, and breathing exercises. Our children’s favorite breathing technique is called “five-finger breathing.” The exercise is tracing your fingers - going up while inhaling and down while slowly exhaling. Your son can do this on his own, you can do it together, or you can trace his fingers while he practices his breaths. The tactile experience adds an additional calming effect to the breathing. Using your webe kälm before and after any, and all, of these exercises will further strengthen and support your efforts to reach a calm, relaxed, and more peaceful state.
Hoping this helps with your bedtime routine.
Good luck to you and remember, webe in this together!