Its bedtime, you have followed your routine; your little one is settled in bed and its time to snuggle. Snuggling turns in to tickling, followed by laughter and before you know it your little one is very wound up instead of winding down for sleep.
This happens to many of us. I wrote about the mismatch of needs at bedtime in a previous post entitled, The Bed Time Dance. The particular mismatch we were having in our house was that the parent working out of the house didn’t have much time to get silly with our then two year old during the work week. We would get all settled in bed and next thing you know, dad and tot would be roaring with laughter and bouncing off the walls.
I could hardly blame him. At that time, I was not working very much and had plenty of time for spur of the moment silliness during the day. It’s important that both parents have that special time, yet I was not at all thrilled with when it was occurring for dad and daughter. I had been with her much of the day and was ready to help her settle down and get to sleep. Winding her back up again made it more challenging to get her to actually go to bed and sent me in to a fit of my own.
In my mind, the problem was this: My partner was getting our daughter all riled up at bedtime when this was supposed to be a calm, soothing time so she would be ready for sleep. While technically that was a problem, viewing it that way didn’t really lead to any solutions. I felt angry and wished he would just change his behavior. That mindset left little room for the needs and feelings of my partner and child.
My partner and I had several discussions before I opened my eyes and saw what the actual problem was: My partner had no time to be spontaneous and have some fun with our toddler during the week. He left early and got home in time for us to sit down to dinner and then rush upstairs for bath and bed. There was very little space in there for anything but the routine. Our schedule had built in no time for my partner and daughter to have those important moments of connection on a daily basis.
While these two problems are related, when I stepped away from the self-righteous, judgmental primary caregiver mindset and looked at the bigger picture, so many more solutions became clear. The first problem had one solution, for my partner to stop his behavior. The second problem had all sort of options. We chose one, and we called it Crazy Time!
We sat down with our two year old and explained what we had seen as a problem, getting all crazy right before we go to sleep made it hard for her to go to sleep. We talked about how important that silly time was to her and daddy. We asked how it would work if we moved that play time to an earlier time in our bedtime routine. We talked about how moving it earlier would allow her to still have that time, and then she could get a little more calm and relaxed as we read books. We asked if she would like to move that time to before she got her pajamas on and brushed teeth, or after. Two year olds turn out to be pretty flexible when you sit down, talk with them about an issue at a calm time, AND involve them in the discussion.
Every night, as soon as we go upstairs after dinner, we have five or so minutes of free choice play time. We use the music as our timer, usually two songs. That way we are all clear on how long crazy time lasts. We started this when we had one child, and she got to choose what we did with this time. Most nights it involved a dance party in her room, usually turning into an all out silly fest.
As it turned out, we solved more than one problem. We were meeting the needs of dad and daughter to have some time to be silly. We also had a specific time limit on it. This allowed me to let go of the “when is this going to end” feeling at bedtime. I knew we had a set amount of time and it would not drag on for an extended period. We also gave our daughter a predictable time of day when she got to be in charge. She had an opportunity to choose what we were going to do, which helped her follow along with the rest of the bedtime routine with less protest.
Crazy Time has become a beloved ritual in our house. We now have two kids and both love these few moments of time to connect as a family and get the last of the day’s wiggles out before settling down for sleep. When we have house guests, they are often invited to participate as well.
While Crazy Time has worked well for our family, the main reason I am sharing this is to show how much our ability to find solutions is based on how we frame the problem. This is true for problems with our partners as well as problems with our children. When we come to a problem from the place of judgment and superiority, we leave no room for others to join the discussion. Our solutions are based on blame, shame and punishment. When we come to the problem as a team member, we can work together to find solutions.
Next time you are getting ready to point the finger and talk at your partner or child, stop, take a deep breath and think before acting. Are there other perspectives you should include in evaluating the problem? Have you looked at it from the other person’s point of view? Invite your partner or child to sit down and have a discussion. You may be amazed at the beliefs behind the other person’s behavior. You may be surprised to hear why the other person feels so strongly about a given situation. When we quiet our own judgment and really listen, we open ourselves up to a bigger picture of the situation, and a wider range of solutions that are respectful to all.