I hastily glance down at my watch. "Wow, it's getting late," I say. My youngest son is lying on the couch wrapped in a green blanket – he looks like a little pea in a pod.
"Can I stay up and sleep here?" he asks. His big, round puppy-dog eyes beg as they look up at me. His smile reaches from ear to ear.
Oh how I love his sweet face. I smile back, "Not tonight; you have school tomorrow," I quickly explain.
"I will go to sleep," he argues.
"He is going to battle you over this," jeers the negative voice in my head. "This is going to turn out badly."
I push the sabotaging voice aside.
"Close, quiet, connect," I repeat to myself. This is my new parenting mantra. I inhale deeply, filling my lungs to max capacity and settle in close beside him on the couch.
"It's time to go to bed honey," I say in a calm, hushed tone.
I place my hand under his elbow lifting him off the couch. He darts for the staircase and up the steps. My feet ache so I slowly follow behind.
As I approach the upper landing, I glance toward my son's room — darkness. "Where did he go?" I ask myself. The muscles in my shoulder tighten up.
"He is teasing you when he should be getting ready for bed," laughs the dark voice of Gloom and Dread.
"I can do this. Come on Damara; you know what to do. Don't listen to that negative voice," I reason. I step into his room. "Andrew," I yell.
"Andrew, where are you?"
A quiet chuckle vibrates from behind his door and a smiling face pops into sight.
"Tell him off," pipes the dark voice.
"Look at his smiling face; he thinks this is fun; don't crush him," I retort back.
I approach him, my lips slightly upturned. "Andrew, bedtime is not silly time," I share. "There are other times of day we can be silly; bedtime is not one of them. I see you are having fun. Please go shower so you can get to bed."
He walks to his dresser and pulls the top drawer open. He painstakingly looks at his pajamas. "He is going to take forever," screams the negative voice. I slowly inhale, filling every corner of my lungs with oxygen and then exhale. He picks a pair. Shew! My muscles relax.
He strolls to the shower. I am tempted to say, "Hurry up," but bite my tongue.
"Crisis diverted," I cheer inwardly.
When I pay attention to the dark voice, I often say something I regret (that has happened too often). "Wow, I am so glad I kept it in check tonight," I reflect.
My mind flashes back to the scenes from the night before. When my son resisted, I listened to the dark voice. As anger and frustration grew, my voice increased in volume.
The result? My son dug in his heels – the Battle Royale had officially begun.
As I stood in my son's room contemplating the stark difference between these two interactions, it was ... shocking.
"I want more moments like tonight," I resolutely decide.
I have found over time that these three adjustments in my parenting approach help bedtime go smoother:
Close, quiet, connect
Try saying this mantra over and over as a quick reminder. It is difficult for children to transition to bedtime. To communicate with our children we need to first get close to them so they feel a connection. Being close helps us resist the urge to raise our voice. We quietly tell them what they need to do. Placing a soft hand on them or giving them a quick reassuring hug strengthens the connection. When children feel calmed, they more happily cooperate.
Remember your child's point of view
Life is an adventure to children. Try to remember this and view life from their perspective. Empathize with them so they know you understand how they feel. Say, "I see you are feeling silly; this is not the time for it. You can be silly tomorrow."
Teach the value
Children need to understand the importance of sleep and how it recharges their bodies, helps them grow and keeps them healthy. Possibly share a story about a child who had no energy to do the things he enjoyed because of his lack of sleep. Children love stories. Stories help them understand the importance of sleep.
Bedtime can feel like WW III. I have found when I stay calm, ignore the negative voice, and use these effective strategies, bedtime flows much more smoothly.
Evaluate how you interact with your children at bedtime. Try a few of the suggestions listed here. Improving behavior starts with us — the parents. Our children will follow our lead. Remember the mantra: "Close, quiet, connect." We can do it!