Shortening bedtime routine

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 11, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,

I love your column and read it every day.   I have a son who just turned three.  My husband puts him to bed most nights.  He usually gets home from work at 7:15 and he comes right up to take over bedtime.

The routine has gotten out of control and my husband is having a hard time getting it back to a reasonable length.  It usually takes 45 minutes to an hour before my husband leaves the room -- and this time does not necessarily include dressing and teeth brushing, etc.  Most nights I've already done all or some of that part of the routine.  Somehow the "ouch" game has become part of the routine and now my husband can't seem to get out of it.  "Ouch" is a game that has evolved -- it's my son jumping on top of my husband -- basically a game of roughousing.  My son LOVES this.... and as soon as he hears Daddy's footsteps he basically rips the book out of my hand and says, "Daddy's home!" and is ready for the handover.

I have concerns over this bedtime routine.  All of the literature suggests that getting a kid all wound up before bed is not a good idea.  I don't know that the roughousing affects my son's sleep.  Most nights (but not all) he falls asleep without issue.  However, it does get my son wound up in the sense that there's a lot of whining and crying when "ouch" is over. Also, I feel the routine is too long and complicated.

My son does not act this way (as much) when I put him to bed.  I can do the whole thing in 20-30 minutes and there is usually no whining and crying.  He is definitely entering a stage, however, where things overall are becoming more difficult.  There's a lot of "one more time," "one more song," and that kind of thing, so he's definitely milking us both for all we're worth.

Of course the time they spend together is important.  In trying to anticipate what questions you might have for me, it is not the only time they spend together.  I leave for work before either or them is even awake in the morning.  My husband does the entire morning routine and drops my son off at daycare.  I pick my son up at 3 and do the whole afternoon/evening routine, and then my husband gets home in time for bed.  The two of them also spend a lot of quality time together on weekends.  So my husband really could not be more involved.

Yes, the two of us have talked about this issue and I have suggested different ways of trying to cut down the bedtime routine.  He would like to cut it down too, but can't really figure out how.  I understand that once you get into bad habits with your kids, they are sometimes very hard to extract yourself from.

I have three questions:  1.  Am I stressing too much about it and should I just let them do their thing?  2.  If not, do you have any specific suggestions for how my husband can break out of this cycle? 3.  Do you have any suggestions/resources for my son's increasing attempts to wrestle control from us?

Sorry to be so lengthy.  Thank you.

From: See3132, Marshfield
 

 

Dear See3132,

1.  "Am I stressing too much about it and should I just let them do their thing?

You said your son really enjoys it and so does your husband. You said your son seems to have no trouble falling asleep. Moms and dads interact differently with their children and those differences tend to have positive influences. That's one thing to consider. Here's the other: I wonder if you are jealous that your son "basically rips the book out of my hands" in his excitement that dad is home. It's not unusual AT ALL for a boy to love that physical activity with a dad -- and, by the way, to also love the quieter time he spends with you. It's not a competition, but it's hard sometimes to not think of it that way, or at least, to not feel as if that's what's going on. (I remember going through something like this when our son was this age and being very jealous.)  Remind yourself that it's wonderful for your son to have BOTH of you in his life and that you each offer something different, not better. So yes: let them do their thing and you do yours. Each is valuable and important.

2. "Specific suggestions for how my husband can break out of this cycle?"

 Your husband needs to set a limit and to follow through with it. I suggest he set a timer (it's objective) and say, "We have 10 (or whatever he decides) minutes to play the 'Ouch game,' when the timer says 10 minutes are up, it's quiet time." He needs to specify the consequence ("I'll stay with you and turn out the light/rub your back/read a book/, if you get quiet quickly. Otherwise, I'll have to leave and you can settle down on your own.") Or something to that effect. Your husband should only say this if he is prepared to follow through. There may be a night of two or three of extreme unhappiness but once your son sees that your husband means it, he will be quick to comply.

3. " Do you have any suggestions/resources for my son's increasing attempts to wrestle control from us?"

 This is all about understanding his world. Children want limits and boundaries; it's what makes them feel safe. So when they  push the boundaries, it's really an attempt to discover where the boundaries are: "When will mom/dad pay attention?" "When does mom/dad really mean what she/he says?" "I got away with this last time, what about this time?" Experts suggest that parents who are able to set an age-appropriate limit and follow through with consequences in a consistent way tend to have children who are less likely to throw tantrums and more likely to cope with curve-balls in the course of their lives.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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10 comments so far...
  1. To me this is very simple - and I disagree that it is about control: your son is craving more time with his father. Sometimes I have had jealous feelings about how much my kids prefer their Dad to me. But then, my husband remind me that I'm like "three meals a day," whereas he is like "the ice cream sundae" at the end. Who can blame the kids for wanting the hot fudge and ice cream

    Is there anything your husband can do to move his arrival time up a little bit? Do any work from home early in the morning or later at night?

    Posted by RH May 11, 10 07:12 AM
  1. A three year old boy NEEDS a good hour a day of one-on-one with his dad NOT INCLUDING BEDTIME. If dad has to come home from work at 7:15 then bedtime needs to start at 8PM. Use a big clock to set limits without arguments.

    Before that, dad needs to have a conversation with his son about how his day was, what he will do tomorrow, etc, read a book, play in the house including running around together. Maybe a snack together as suppertime for the child has happened already.

    This is how you set your son on a lifetime track of good family relations. He will imitiate what he has experienced in his own childhood. Making money is necessary but so is facetime with dad.

    Once the kid is in bed, you have the rest of the evening to share with your husband as adults. You are lucky that you can count on the child being soundly asleep.


    Posted by Irene May 11, 10 10:01 AM
  1. I have to wonder if an unstated concern with this schedule might be that mom and dad don't get much time together. If mom is out of the house before either father or son is awake, and is "greeted" by dad swooping in to spend an hour exclusively with their son I wouldn't be surprised if she resented it a bit. If I interpret the letter correctly, mom is trying to help by having son almost ready for bed when dad gets home. Then Dad "undoes" what she has done by enjoying some roughhousing time, or falling prey to endless "one more story" requests. Maybe a clear agreement on target time for "lights out" would help? Being the early riser, I'm guessing mom probably goes to be early as well, so where is the adult time? She would probably appreciate it if dad demonstrated that spending a time with her is also a priority.

    Posted by gastrogal May 11, 10 10:12 AM
  1. Actually, I agree with both, with Barbara and with RH... I think all of it might apply in some level, even the control part. --Children at this age are trying to exert their power a bit, and that's a good thing. They are learning to manage the options around them, to push the boundaries and figure out how the world works. It's not a bad thing, they have to try and they have to learn about limits, when the pushing works and when it does not work. It's a healthy stage of their development.

    Our 2.5-year old daughter also likes to push the limits a bit and asks for more and more but, we make sure she understands what's expected. Sometimes she wants 5 stories... and so we tell her she can have 3 and she can choose them, and remind her that it's really late and that all her little friends (we name a few of her faves) are already sleeping. This usually does the trick.

    If dad feels bad that he is not spending enough time (and if he cannot change his schedule), maybe bedtime can be pushed a bit... 20 min or so, and they can play and bond a bit more before bedtime. Though dad spends time with the child in the morning.... dad arriving at the end of the day, right for bedtime routine only, might bring some anxiety to the child, since it marks the end of the day and of his time with dad.

    Having a very physical game right before going to bed will certainly make the child use up that energy left but it will also get him very excitable... so maybe the dad can mix things up a bit... and have an "Ouch" time with the timmer suggested by Barbara and then follow up with a more peaceful time... maybe reading a story of the child's choice to come him down. And it's up to the dad (if he is doing the routine) to be loving and firm to set the limits. Consistency will be key.

    Posted by rmg May 11, 10 10:16 AM
  1. You will CHERISH memories of these times one day. The ouch game sounds wonderful. Don't forget to live in the moment. Think of how our ancestors did it... our lives are so regimented and compartmentalized now.

    My 11 and 9yo girls are both good at keeping to schedules and routine NOW, but as infants, I coslept, fed on demand (nursing) and basically followed a schedule that they helped create (and we both work full time outside the home)

    IN the end, they ended up fine. At 3 it was harder to impose a regiment. At 6, not so hard at all. Even if you didn't do it at 3.
    My rule was always 'once you start going to school for real, things WILL change. Far less TV and a regular bed time)

    Posted by Elle Bella May 11, 10 10:50 AM
  1. Thank you for responding to my letter! Just for the record, I am not jealous at all. I actually crack up when he "rips the book out of my hand." Believe me, I'm waiting just as anxiously for my husband to get home because every day I've been up since 6 a.m. (I work full time as a HS teacher) and I am looking forward to the first minute to myself all day! I will be able to relax a little bit more now that I know you think this bedtime routine isn't the end of the world. And RH, I WISH my husband could get home a little earlier. Not happening for now. And gastrogal -- very perceptive. Mom and Dad do not get a lot of adult time together.

    Posted by see3132 May 11, 10 11:40 AM
  1. 1 - if it's Dad's responsibility to put him to bed, let Dad deal with this

    2 - Teachers are part time workers, not full time

    Posted by Ananonymous May 11, 10 04:14 PM
  1. see3132 it seems that the responses from Barbara and the commentators addressed your main concern. Regarding your follow-up, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in the conundrum of having parents work overlapping shifts to balance work and family. On a great day one of us is out the door at 7 AM and the other is home by 7 PM but sometimes the shifts are even more extreme. One thing that's helped my husband and I stay connected when we feel like ships passing in the night is that when whoever is going to bed earlier is getting ready for bed, he or she gives the other a head's up and the other person comes to bed too for 10-15 minutes. It's amazing how having just a few quiet minutes to talk and snuggle at the end of the day helps with keeping us on an even keel. Then the night owl can get back up and do what he or she wants without feeling like he or she is giving up his or her own downtime (or work time or chore time) and the early riser doesn't feel like she or he needs to stay up longer than needed or wanted to see the other person. Another couple I know shares a glass of wine or cup of tea every night right after the kids are in bed (at around 9 PM) and then they can each go about their respective routines for going to bed, doing chores, relaxing etc.

    Posted by Jen May 11, 10 04:55 PM
  1. I think you might have a point about the ouch game, it could be winding him up a little and making the whole process take longer. Maybe he could tell him that this game is for during the day only, not bedtime. Or try a timer. I'd feel even better doing that if the two of them are already getting some together time in the mornings, which I'm guessing is the case.

    On the other hand, if the one hour routine is starting at 7:15, sounds like your son is in bed by himself by 8:30 which isn't a bad bedtime at all if you ask me, so I think you can safely make no changes as long as everyone is happy with the arrangement.

    Posted by geocool May 11, 10 05:39 PM
  1. This sounds like my house when my boys were little. My husband would roughhouse with the kids and then wonder why when he was ready to stop the kids couldn't settle down and go to bed. I would just laugh and go back to cleaning the kitchen and let him deal with it. Especially since your husband has the morning routine as well, he will have a cranky kid if bedtime keeps getting pushed ahead. If your son isn't cranky in the morning, I don't see a problem except for the lack of alone time you get with each other. Just remember this stage won't last forever and try to carve out some time together on the weekends to make up for what you lack during the week.

    Posted by Cordelia May 12, 10 01:02 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. To me this is very simple - and I disagree that it is about control: your son is craving more time with his father. Sometimes I have had jealous feelings about how much my kids prefer their Dad to me. But then, my husband remind me that I'm like "three meals a day," whereas he is like "the ice cream sundae" at the end. Who can blame the kids for wanting the hot fudge and ice cream

    Is there anything your husband can do to move his arrival time up a little bit? Do any work from home early in the morning or later at night?

    Posted by RH May 11, 10 07:12 AM
  1. A three year old boy NEEDS a good hour a day of one-on-one with his dad NOT INCLUDING BEDTIME. If dad has to come home from work at 7:15 then bedtime needs to start at 8PM. Use a big clock to set limits without arguments.

    Before that, dad needs to have a conversation with his son about how his day was, what he will do tomorrow, etc, read a book, play in the house including running around together. Maybe a snack together as suppertime for the child has happened already.

    This is how you set your son on a lifetime track of good family relations. He will imitiate what he has experienced in his own childhood. Making money is necessary but so is facetime with dad.

    Once the kid is in bed, you have the rest of the evening to share with your husband as adults. You are lucky that you can count on the child being soundly asleep.


    Posted by Irene May 11, 10 10:01 AM
  1. I have to wonder if an unstated concern with this schedule might be that mom and dad don't get much time together. If mom is out of the house before either father or son is awake, and is "greeted" by dad swooping in to spend an hour exclusively with their son I wouldn't be surprised if she resented it a bit. If I interpret the letter correctly, mom is trying to help by having son almost ready for bed when dad gets home. Then Dad "undoes" what she has done by enjoying some roughhousing time, or falling prey to endless "one more story" requests. Maybe a clear agreement on target time for "lights out" would help? Being the early riser, I'm guessing mom probably goes to be early as well, so where is the adult time? She would probably appreciate it if dad demonstrated that spending a time with her is also a priority.

    Posted by gastrogal May 11, 10 10:12 AM
  1. Actually, I agree with both, with Barbara and with RH... I think all of it might apply in some level, even the control part. --Children at this age are trying to exert their power a bit, and that's a good thing. They are learning to manage the options around them, to push the boundaries and figure out how the world works. It's not a bad thing, they have to try and they have to learn about limits, when the pushing works and when it does not work. It's a healthy stage of their development.

    Our 2.5-year old daughter also likes to push the limits a bit and asks for more and more but, we make sure she understands what's expected. Sometimes she wants 5 stories... and so we tell her she can have 3 and she can choose them, and remind her that it's really late and that all her little friends (we name a few of her faves) are already sleeping. This usually does the trick.

    If dad feels bad that he is not spending enough time (and if he cannot change his schedule), maybe bedtime can be pushed a bit... 20 min or so, and they can play and bond a bit more before bedtime. Though dad spends time with the child in the morning.... dad arriving at the end of the day, right for bedtime routine only, might bring some anxiety to the child, since it marks the end of the day and of his time with dad.

    Having a very physical game right before going to bed will certainly make the child use up that energy left but it will also get him very excitable... so maybe the dad can mix things up a bit... and have an "Ouch" time with the timmer suggested by Barbara and then follow up with a more peaceful time... maybe reading a story of the child's choice to come him down. And it's up to the dad (if he is doing the routine) to be loving and firm to set the limits. Consistency will be key.

    Posted by rmg May 11, 10 10:16 AM
  1. You will CHERISH memories of these times one day. The ouch game sounds wonderful. Don't forget to live in the moment. Think of how our ancestors did it... our lives are so regimented and compartmentalized now.

    My 11 and 9yo girls are both good at keeping to schedules and routine NOW, but as infants, I coslept, fed on demand (nursing) and basically followed a schedule that they helped create (and we both work full time outside the home)

    IN the end, they ended up fine. At 3 it was harder to impose a regiment. At 6, not so hard at all. Even if you didn't do it at 3.
    My rule was always 'once you start going to school for real, things WILL change. Far less TV and a regular bed time)

    Posted by Elle Bella May 11, 10 10:50 AM
  1. Thank you for responding to my letter! Just for the record, I am not jealous at all. I actually crack up when he "rips the book out of my hand." Believe me, I'm waiting just as anxiously for my husband to get home because every day I've been up since 6 a.m. (I work full time as a HS teacher) and I am looking forward to the first minute to myself all day! I will be able to relax a little bit more now that I know you think this bedtime routine isn't the end of the world. And RH, I WISH my husband could get home a little earlier. Not happening for now. And gastrogal -- very perceptive. Mom and Dad do not get a lot of adult time together.

    Posted by see3132 May 11, 10 11:40 AM
  1. 1 - if it's Dad's responsibility to put him to bed, let Dad deal with this

    2 - Teachers are part time workers, not full time

    Posted by Ananonymous May 11, 10 04:14 PM
  1. see3132 it seems that the responses from Barbara and the commentators addressed your main concern. Regarding your follow-up, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in the conundrum of having parents work overlapping shifts to balance work and family. On a great day one of us is out the door at 7 AM and the other is home by 7 PM but sometimes the shifts are even more extreme. One thing that's helped my husband and I stay connected when we feel like ships passing in the night is that when whoever is going to bed earlier is getting ready for bed, he or she gives the other a head's up and the other person comes to bed too for 10-15 minutes. It's amazing how having just a few quiet minutes to talk and snuggle at the end of the day helps with keeping us on an even keel. Then the night owl can get back up and do what he or she wants without feeling like he or she is giving up his or her own downtime (or work time or chore time) and the early riser doesn't feel like she or he needs to stay up longer than needed or wanted to see the other person. Another couple I know shares a glass of wine or cup of tea every night right after the kids are in bed (at around 9 PM) and then they can each go about their respective routines for going to bed, doing chores, relaxing etc.

    Posted by Jen May 11, 10 04:55 PM
  1. I think you might have a point about the ouch game, it could be winding him up a little and making the whole process take longer. Maybe he could tell him that this game is for during the day only, not bedtime. Or try a timer. I'd feel even better doing that if the two of them are already getting some together time in the mornings, which I'm guessing is the case.

    On the other hand, if the one hour routine is starting at 7:15, sounds like your son is in bed by himself by 8:30 which isn't a bad bedtime at all if you ask me, so I think you can safely make no changes as long as everyone is happy with the arrangement.

    Posted by geocool May 11, 10 05:39 PM
  1. This sounds like my house when my boys were little. My husband would roughhouse with the kids and then wonder why when he was ready to stop the kids couldn't settle down and go to bed. I would just laugh and go back to cleaning the kitchen and let him deal with it. Especially since your husband has the morning routine as well, he will have a cranky kid if bedtime keeps getting pushed ahead. If your son isn't cranky in the morning, I don't see a problem except for the lack of alone time you get with each other. Just remember this stage won't last forever and try to carve out some time together on the weekends to make up for what you lack during the week.

    Posted by Cordelia May 12, 10 01:02 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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