My kids become vampires at bedtime.
After a long day of giving my all, I find they still want to suck the life out of me at the close of day.
Let's look at it from their perspective. It's dark. They've been with people all day and now they're expected to stay in their beds by themselves. IN THE DARK. There are shadows, and noises, and possibly some unresolved emotions from the day. They wonder who--or what--is in the closet, under their bed, or outside their window. No wonder they are often unsettled at bedtime. No wonder they resist, whine, act out, cling, etc.
I'm going to shift gears for a minute and share what my husband and I have done to help our children deal with bad dreams. Parenting is not an 8 to 5 sort of thing. I consider myself on-call 24/7 as a mother. Early in our marriage, we decided on a procedure for nighttime visits from our children and it has worked quite well for us.
I write this blog post the day after our youngest came to our bed in the night because she had a bad dream. To give some context, I'd like to include that we've lived in a new house for a short period of time. She is ten and sleeps in a downstairs bedroom, which she hasn't done for five years. On top of that, because of a problem with carpet in our new house, she's actually sleeping in a bedroom that is not her own, still surrounded by boxes. For the first two nights in the house, she wouldn't sleep downstairs at all.
She came to my bedside around 3 AM because she had a bad dream. I let her get in bed with me and held her. I let her cry. I asked her what the dream was about and she told me. We were all trapped in a room and were burning to death. Pretty bleak. I comforted her and let her stay in my bed for around 20-30 minutes. Then I asked if she was ready to go back to her bed and she said yes. I told her I'd take her back and even stay with her in her bed for a bit. Just after 4 AM, I returned to my bed.
Here is the procedure: Our kids are always welcome to come to us, even in the middle of the night. Even when we're groggy, sleep-deprived and dead tired. They are always welcome. We take the time to give them what they need: companionship, comfort, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever the case may be. The second part of the deal is they always return to their own bed. We take them back to their room, tuck them in, kiss and hug them, and say goodnight once more. If they have had a particularly unsettling dream, or if there are special circumstances, I will stay with them in their bed for a bit as well, but I will always go back to my own bed.
What made us decide on this procedure? We wanted our kids to know that we are always there for them, but we also wanted to protect our boundaries and help them find the courage to face fears. For us, this works well. Our kids don't complain about going back to bed. I don't think they stay in their beds afraid either, wondering if they should come to us. They know they can come to us. The time we spend consoling them does the trick. They know what to expect, which empowers them. They feel connected, watched over, listened to, and taken care of. Their needs are filled and they can return to their beds and try again to get some restful sleep. Even with all the special circumstances of the last late-nigh visit, our daughter knew what to expect and had the courage to go back to her temporary room in a new house.
So back to the vampires. Kids love to have their parents present at bedtime. I know the days are long, and I'll admit sometimes all they get is a hug and kiss goodnight because I've got nothing left. But I have found it is best if they have some one-on-one time with each parent at bedtime. I like to have them tell me three things they're grateful for, or something good and bad from the day as well as something they're looking forward to. I try to listen (sometimes I zone out), I try to give a bit more. One of their favorite things is for me to sing them a song. They also love a little back scratch or shoulder massage. I like to give when I can. Why? Because they deserve to feel safe, loved, important, even cherished.
Challenge: Establish a bedtime routine in your home as well as a procedure for what to do when your kids visit you in the middle of the night. (Note: while my husband and I both participate in the bedtime routine, I almost always do the middle of the night thing. They always seem to come to me. I'm pretty sure it's because my husband is dead to the world. And maybe they just prefer mom in times like that. If there is puke involved, however, it's more of a team effort.)