Never-ending bedtime scenarios are no parent’s favorite activity. At the end of a long day, we just want a short break before we go to sleep. Why is it so often hard to get one?
Being separated from your caregivers and protectors before you are old enough to fend for yourself is scary to most young children. For most of human existence, it would have been a dangerous thing. Our children are the descendants of prehistoric babies who did not get eaten by hungry wild animals. How did they avoid that fate? It wasn’t by staying quietly by themselves in a remote corner of the village where saber-toothed tigers roamed. It was by loudly alerting their parents if they were separated and re-joining the adults of the village as soon as possible.
Today, our children are not at a high risk of tiger attacks when they are sleeping in their own rooms. Unfortunately for those who prefer to have separate sleeping quarters from their little kids, young human brains don’t know that. They are programmed to believe they need to stay close.
To meet the need to stay close, many attachment-style parents choose to set up a family bed where everyone in the family is welcome. Some use a king size bed and some join several beds together to make a family mega-bed. This works great if, like, me, you can’t sleep well while crunched for space, but otherwise enjoy co-sleeping.
Other parents have kids who sleep just fine in their own rooms. Some avoid the “can’t-get-them-to-stay-in-their-room” debacle by staying with their children until they fall asleep. At the baby and toddler stages, this helps children feel safe and secure. As kids move out of the early years and into the elementary school years, they may be able to fall asleep on their own, but still enjoy having their parents around. As many parents have observed, bedtime is when kids get philosophical.
Where do stars come from?
What is infinity?
Why are there colors?
It’s also a time when life’s big questions come up.
Are you going die one day?
Am I going to die one day?
And it can be a time when we find out about things going on in our kids’ lives we would have otherwise never known about.
Mommy, can I tell you about something that happened today?
To be sure, lying down with your kids isn’t always a magical, connecting experience, but it is a time when kids are more likely to have our full attention. It’s hard to find the time during these formative years to talk about the big questions during a busy day when there are interruptions from siblings, dinner in need of making, doorbells, barking dogs, and errands to run. If our kids know we available at the end of the day when everything is dark, still, and quiet, and the interruptions are few, we create an important opportunity for them to confide in us. Making time for these bedtime chats can be a wonderful way to share our values and worldview in a quiet and contemplative setting when kids are in absorption mode.
At this point you might be thinking, that sounds lovely, but in reality I have a kitchen to clean, other kids to put to bed, and I want to spend a little time with my partner once in a while. I can’t spend the better part of my evening doing Bedtime Philosophy Hour each night. I hear you. To get your kids used to the idea of being in bed on their own, start small. Here are some options.
- Hang out together for a little while, and then take a break to do a small “errand” like getting a glass or water. Eventually you can work up to longer errands, telling your child you’ll come back to check on them in 10 minutes or whatever timeframe seems right.
- Listen to a podcast using headphones or read an e-book while you stay in the room, so your child feels safe and comfortable, but gets to used to falling asleep without needing to be wrapped around you.
- Listen to an audiobook or guided meditation together. The Hoopla app is a great source of children’s audiobooks that you can borrow for free. Once this becomes routine, you may be able to turn on the audio, tuck in your child, and say goodnight, and let them fall asleep solo with only the occasional check-in.
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