Bedtime routines with young children can be one of the most frustrating things as a parent. Couple a rough bedtime with the fact that it is the last thing you do with your child before they fall asleep, and, if you’re like me, you go to bed feeling full of guilt, regret, and failure.
Kids are pretty smart and they know when they have an edge over you – like the fact that they can make you feel guilty about being a miserable failure as a parent. So for me, this means that bedtime can be an absolute disaster.
Reese, our 7-year-old, is a pro at finding ways to extend bedtime, so I thought I’d share a few of her finest tricks, in hopes that it helps you be prepared for what you might encounter. In return, I hope you’ll share a few with me that aren’t covered here. We need to help each other!
1. I want to show you something
Oh sure, there’s nothing that makes more sense after you’ve been tucked in, read a book, and then kissed goodnight, than to hop up out of bed to show me one of your toys. This isn’t one of Reese’s most-used tactics, but she brings it out every couple weeks – and lays it on thick.
Fortunately, I am able to disarm this attack fairly easily by reminding her that it would be “impossible” for me to tuck her in again if she were to get up now. Maybe that’s mean, but… sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
But she’s getting smarter, and has taken to asking ME to go over and get the toy. Strangely, my bad back always seems to be “acting up” around this time, and I simply can’t move from my spot at that time…
2. I need to do something
I love that Reese has taken an active interest in knowing what day it is, how many days until the weekend, what holidays are coming up, etc. She especially likes to mark off the day on the calendar before going to bed so she can visualize exactly where we are in the month. But if she forgets to mark off the day, it’s simply the end of the world if she doesn’t go mark it off immediately.
I find it hard to deny this one, as I love that she’s learning and trying to understand time. So I usually let her go do it. Even if it means I have to use a little “daddy magic” to get her tucked back in.
Recently, after she’d been tucked in, she threw off the covers and said, “Hey Dad, do you want to see how high I can jump?”
Why the hell not?
3. I’m scared
I feel pretty lucky that I haven’t had to have the, “There are no monsters in your closet,” talk with Reese. That’s not to say she’s not afraid of anything, but her fears come more out of reality than they do fantasy.
We’ve noticed that while she doesn’t like cartoons that depict monsters, most of her moments of being scared come when she senses someone is in “real” danger. Whether it’s someone on TV who is lost, seeing a puppy all by itself on the side of the road, or reading a story about someone who is sad, she’s very concerned that people are physically AND emotionally ok. And I love that.
So while I haven’t had to check for monsters under the bed or in the closet, occasionally I do have to reassure her that the puppy we saw on the side of the road is probably just fine.
4. I gotta go potty
This one drives me nuts. Whether it’s Reese or Macy, both of them use this one strategically. Even if they just went potty five minutes earlier, on the worst and most difficult nights they pull this one out of their back pocket – and it drives me up a wall.
What is it about kids’ bladders that makes it possible for them to pee for what seems like 10 minutes, only to apparently need to rush back to the bathroom five minutes later? I would say this is 100% a tactic to avoid going to bed, but they legitimately DO go potty that second time. So what gives?
5. I want another book/tell me a story
There are few things I am more proud of than the recurring bedtime storyline I created about a chicken named Cuckoo and her four little chicks: Squeaky, Slippery, Slimey, and Soapy. It’s absolutely awful and 100% made up on the spot, but the girls love it.
Cuckoo’s chicks do nothing but make huge messes, get into all sorts of trouble, and cause all kinds of chaos for her. It’s become part of our routine that after Reese reads me a book, I tell her a “Cuckoo story.” I love doing this! The problem comes when she asks for another one. And when I say no, you would think I’d just told her that she could never have chocolate again.
She gets pouty, grunts and rolls over in her bed. She pulls the covers over her head, and won’t respond when I say, “Good night, I love you.” I can’t stand it! I know that this in itself is a tactic, but in these moments I feel like I’ve failed her. Would it have hurt to have told one more short story? Am I telling her “no” because she needs to go to sleep or because I’m tired of parenting for the day?
Don’t tell Kristi, but I’m totally a sucker. Not every night, but every once in a while I will attempt to smooth things over with her (because I can’t stand sending her to bed that way). I don’t usually tell her another story, because I really don’t want to reward that attitude. But rather than just letting her be, I try very hard to make her laugh or smile and ensure that we end the night on good terms.
6. Tell me about yourself
This one is tough. Every once in a while she wants to know more about me. Never during the day. Not while we’re gathered around the dinner table. It’s almost exclusively after we’ve read books, done a Cuckoo story, and tucked her in. She’ll usually have been lying there quietly for a minute, and then out of the blue she’ll ask, “How did you and mom meet?”
That’s a pretty big question for a 7-year-old to ask, let alone be thinking about. And as much as I believe she’s just grasping at anything she can to stay awake, I love that she wants to know. So usually I’ll humor her and give her some details.
There are nights, though, where I am a total jerk and snap at her that it’s too late to be asking questions like that (as if she knows what kinds of questions are ok to ask at what times of day). And I hate that. Learn from my mistakes.
7. I forgot to tell you <insert random story here>
This is probably the most common post-tucking in “emergency” I get out of Reese. It usually comes in the form of a very excited question.
“Hey Dad, I forgot to tell you something amazing that happened today, do you want to hear?”
I’m not sure how you’re supposed to say “No,” there, so I usually give a big sigh and cave. One of these days I’ll learn to not be such a jerk…
It’s usually something that is actually fairly interesting, and almost every time I get mad at myself for being so frustrated with her. It’s often in these moments of nearly-asleep-but-still-awake clarity that she finally relaxes her body enough to remember some of the details of her day. I’m trying to stay tuned to that and make sure I’m ready for it. These moments really help us to bond.
8. Real Life
This one is the hardest. As many of you may know, Reese’s left hand wasn’t fully developed at birth, so she has three fingers on that hand. It’s stunningly beautiful, but she’s incredibly sensitive about it at times (but surprisingly, not all that often). She won’t say much about it for weeks, and then all of a sudden, as she’s laying in bed about to doze off, she’ll sit up, look at me with tears in her eyes, and start crying about how she wishes she had 10 fingers.
I don’t even know how to begin thinking about the best way to respond. Obviously this is a delicate subject, and I can understand her sadness. I try to reassure her that God gave her eight amazing fingers for a reason, and someday she’s going to learn why and feel blessed. But of course, that’s hard to understand and appreciate at 7 years old.
It’s on nights like these that I just hold her. Who cares what time it is? Who cares if she threw a fit earlier in the day? This is real, and she needs me. Being there for her is what I do best, and I will never deny her that.
So this is definitely not an exhaustive list of excuses kids give for wanting to stay up late, but these are certainly the ones I experience most often. How about you? What other brilliant ways do kids have to avoid going to bed? Seriously, I need to know so I can be prepared for them.
So please, leave a comment below, click one of the buttons to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or email it to a friend. While we may all be miserable failures as parents, there’s no reason we can’t try to help each other be a little bit better each day.