Globe Syndicate

for release November 2, 2001

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

NOTE TO EDITORS: this is part 1 of 2 on Children and Sleep.

Ending Bedtime Battles

I've often pondered our attitudes toward sleep. When the children are small, we have to cajole them into going to bed. Then they wake up way too early, when we wish they'd sleep in. During their teen and college years, we have to persuade them out of bed. They love to sleep in, probably because they more or less set their own bedtime (too late). At my age, no one has to coax me into going to bed (probably because I rarely ever get to sleep in).

But certainly getting small children to sleep is a frustrating time for many parents. In our minds we may have this romanticized picture of bedtime: a sweet smelling child fresh from her bath curls up on my lap; I read her one book, sing one lullaby, and then tuck her in bed. Before I even turn the lights out, she is asleep with that angelic look all kids have when they finally make it to slumberland.

But this is a far-fetched fantasy for most parents. Children soon learn to manipulate and ask for extended favors until our patience and fatigue makes things turn ugly. We threaten terrible things in the name of getting them to go to bed. I remember angrily holding my oldest down in bed so she would stop her wiggling and twitching, which I felt she was doing purposely to keep herself awake. I also wondered, of course, if I was doing the right thing.

Other parents tell tales of having to sit by their child's bed for hours until the child fell asleep, or letting the child sleep in their own bed as a way of solving the bedtime battles. By the time our youngest came along, I recognized sometimes that because she was such a good napper during the day, it was unrealistic to expect her to go to bed at 9 p.m. We allowed her to play quietly in the living room while we read or watched TV, as long as she didn't bother us.

This is the strategy recommended by "Love and Logic" expert Jim Fay, president and cofounder of The Love and Logic Institute in Golden, Colorado and author of many books on raising children. He recommends that instead of referring to "bedtime," which can sound like a punishment, call it "Bedroom time" or "Kid's time." Bedroom time or Kid's time is a time for the child to be in his or her room playing quietly, looking at books, or perhaps listening to soft music or tapes. They don't necessarily have to even be trying to go to sleep at first. However, is not a time to be bothering parents.

We all know it is impossible to will ourselves to go to sleep, yet sometimes we have been guilty of telling a child "You march off to that bedroom and go to sleep now." The child's natural response to such a demand is anger. Who can go to sleep with anger charging through one's mind or veins? It also sets up a power struggle. A manipulative child can keep this power struggle going for hours.

Rather, bedroom time can be a time to slow down. Fay says, "Children's brains operate at a high pitch and don't shut down as quickly as adult brains. Parents should announce the beginning of slowdown time about 40 minutes before bedroom time."

He recommends turning off stimulating activities such as TV, exciting music or family games, and then giving kids choices, such as:
* Do you want to go to bed right now, or in 10 minutes?
* Do you want to brush your teeth in the kitchen or the bathroom?
* Do you want a story first or your bath first?
* Do you want a drink in the kitchen or in your room?
* Do you want a piggyback ride or walk on your own?
* Do want the light on or off?
* Do you want to get tucked in or do it yourself?
* Do you want to go to sleep right away, or try to keep your eyes open as long as you can?

Mr. Fay reminds parents to be sure and offer choices you can realistically give-never give one choice you like and one you can't allow.  Finally, once kids are in their room, make them stay there. Announce that "kids time" is over and it is now "parents' time." Stick it out over several rough days or weeks until they get used to the idea. Kids of course come up with great reasons they should come out, like, "It's scary in here. There are monsters in my room." Fay says that kids take their emotional cues from their parents so try responding, "Well, sweetie, my advice is to make friends with them. See you in the morning. I love you."

We'll look at more ideas on how this works, and other issues surrounding bedtime in my next column. For more information visit <> or write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 745 words; end material = 105 words

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