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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Reader Asks: Should I Put My Foot Down About Bedtime?

I was recently emailed: "So, for example, at a very young age (say, 1 year old), would you suggest putting your foot down when they refuse to go to bed?" 

My reply: I would never "put my foot down." That to me sounds very controlling and disrespectful to another person's needs. If your dignified French houseguest were refusing to go to bed, would you "put your foot down and insist that he do so?" What I did with my son, and what I still do is:

1) Lots of natural light during the day, especially morning and evening so as to keep natural rhythms.

2) Low lighting at night. (This is largely a personal thing. I have trouble sleeping, so I do it for myself, but it really helps him to get in the bed-time mood.)

3) I go to bed. If he ever wants to stay up I say, "I see that you are not ready to sleep. I am, so I am going to go to bed. When you are ready to go to bed, you know where your bed is!" My son had a floor bed, so he could crawl/scoot into it at a very young age. But children aren't that particular. They will pass out anywhere. If your son's room is a RIE-Montessori bedroom, it should be 100% safe for you to leave him in. 

It should be noted that my son almost always chose to go to bed with me and still does. Every now and then he has a lot of energy and stays up. When he is ready, he puts himself to bed. This works well for both of us.

Sometimes Anders stays up and keeps me awake. This is upsetting for me! So I tell him how frustrated I am feeling and how annoyed and how much I am needing sleep and needing quiet. Sometimes, when he was younger, I had to be very assertive about my needs. "This is a room for people who are awake. This is a room for people who are sleeping. You may not come in here right now." Sometimes he would opt to play very quietly in the sleeping room and that worked too.

Every now and then, my son would absolutely refuse to meet my needs. Every time this happened I would realize (at some point) that he was overtired and simply unable to meet my needs... or his own. When Anders is overtired, he acts like I do when I am overtired. It feels kind of like melting. When I am overtired I don't even want to go to sleep because I am so tired that I don't want to do anything and going to sleep feels like doing something! That is a good time to just hold him. Just hold him while he cries and tells you about how miserable he is feeling. The best thing in those moments is for him to pass out in your arms, fully supported and loved. (Likewise, when I find I am so tired that I feel like I am melting, being cuddled by my husband is the best thing in the world!)

Then there are the times when Anders is not overtired, but I am. At those times, I said something like, "Anders, I love you so much and I wish I could meet your needs right now, but I'm too tired. I have to meet my needs--that's all I can do right now." And then I go to sleep. Before he could talk he could already understand this and he would come and tuck me into bed.

The problems happen when you have a tired parent and a tired child. No one can stretch to meet the other person's needs. (I hope I have expressed already that even the very youngest babies WILL try to meet your needs if you have been communicating with them about it from birth.) When there are two tired parties I usually fight the strength to meet his needs and put my own on hold. Doesn't happen often but it has happened.

Children who are not "made" to go to bed enjoy going to bed. It's just part of the day. It's what we all do in the evening. This makes me think of another book Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream. 

It also should be noted that my son is always welcome to sleep with me. He goes back and forth. A month on his own a month with mom. Sometimes I want alone time with my husband and I ask for it. And just as before, much of the time he is happy to meet my needs and then other times he just can't and we have to go from there and have a discussion.

But I always start from the place that what he wants is as valid as what I want. His wanting to be awake is as valid as my wanting to be asleep.

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