A Little Reflection Can Go A Long Way

Spying on myself to make bedtime more manageable for myself and my kids

Einstein is credited for the definition of insanity that says “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This was me at bedtime for the last few weeks and staying calm was not within reach. I felt like Keener was trying to take me down…

[A brief background: 3.5 year-old Keener has officially dropped his nap. As a crazy sleep person, I didn’t actually think this day would ever come. But alas, here we are. He still does quiet time (working on a post for ideas for independent play) but given he isn’t getting the mid-afternoon nap, he is beyond exhausted by the time bedtime rolls around.]

As a result, I knew I needed to make a change. Absolutely dreading bedtime was not sustainable and felt awful. The last image of their mom before they went to bed was not a pretty picture. Continuing with my thoughts from the last few weeks about controlling myself, I knew the change had to come from me.

Thinking about what was in my control was the first place I started. I spent a few nights “spying on myself” to see when my wheels were coming off. Often when things are feeling really challenging, we tend to lump a multi-step event, such as “bedtime,” into one category and claim “bedtime is terrible!” But in reality, I was able to identify the two parts that were making me the most upset.

Identifying Problem Areas

  1. The biggest challenge was the transition upstairs. For many nights in a row, Keener and Grace would run up the steps and throw all of my husband and my’s pillows off the bed, hide under the sheets (in their gross, dinner covered clothes) and laugh uncontrollably. As I mentioned, staying calm was nowhere on my radar.
  2. The second biggest challenge was Keener being unable to handle disappointment. His “Santa jams” are his absolute favorite pair of pajamas and when they were dirty, he wasn’t able to cope with choosing another pair in his exhausted state.

By taking the time to identify what the specific problem areas were, I was able to then take the time to identify possible solutions. I identified these two problem areas by taking the following steps:

Steps to Spying on Yourself

  1. When the frustrating event happens, take it step by step. Pretend you are moving in slow motion to see where the break-downs actually occur.
  2. When you feel yourself getting frustrated, first take note of what happened directly before that. Did you ask him to do something? Did a sibling give a look or say something unkind? 
  3. Take note of what your child is doing and saying. Is he hitting? Yelling? Whining? Running away?
  4. Lastly, take note of what happens directly after. Did you reprimand her? Did he get hurt? Did she get what she wanted? This is often where, it is hard to admit it, but our reaction is part of the problem.

Take mental notes or actually take notes, but really just focus on watching how this pattern behavior plays out. Try not to worry about imposing your wisdom in this moment. Instead, see my tips about staying calm. There is always time later to let them know that what they did was not acceptable/appropriate/kind/etc.

Once you have some time — after the kids are asleep or while they are watching TV — begin thinking about what your child is doing and more importantly why he might be doing it. What does he gain from displaying that behavior? I will spend more time in later posts explaining more about replacement behaviors and the function of behaviors but keep in mind, the behavior he is displaying is serving a purpose.

After I did this reflective work, I was then able to take some time to think about possible solutions to make both myself and my kids feel better about bedtime.

Solutions

The educator in me is always thinking about skills that need to be taught when I see undesirable behaviors. By taking the time to analyze the situation that is frustrating me, I am able to identify what those lagging skills are. For this situation, there were 3 skills that I needed to teach my kids. I needed to:

  1. Teach them what “being tired” feels like 
  2. Teach them an appropriate replacement behavior
  3. Try and prevent the meltdown before it starts

1. Teach them about what “being tired” feels like

I realized I needed to “teach” Keener about being tired before he was actually in that state. My goal was to teach Keener not only what it felt like but also what he could do about it: Sometimes when your body is tired, you feel like you have no energy to even climb the stairs. You want to be carried and feel like you could fall asleep standing up. But other times, your body can actually have lots of extra energy when you are tired! Isn’t that silly? That has been happening to your body at night. And when you are that kind of tired, it is so much harder to keep your body safe and calm. I want to help you think of some ways we can help your body stay safe when you are feeling that “silly tired.”

2. Brainstorm Replacement Behaviors

I started brainstorming on my own but then once I had a few ideas, I invited Keener into the discussion. If your child is older, you might be amazed and what they are capable of coming up with! Keener, I’ve noticed that when you go upstairs, you are throwing pillows off of Mommy’s bed and it is making me upset. I know when you are tired, it’s harder to control your body. Instead of throwing Mommy’s pillows, let’s think of other things we could throw in your room! I know you have that “silly tired” energy so I totally get wanting to throw something. Hmmm… what about cotton balls? Let’s make a target and you can throw them at the target! (and by target I mean paper plate/bowl that also stores them).

3. Prevent the Meltdown Before it Starts

Now after quiet time, we check to see if his Santa jams are clean. If they aren’t, he will pick out another pair of pajamas (or sweat pants) that he will wear to bed that night and lay them out. That way, he isn’t handling the brunt of the disappointment at 6:30 when his emotions are much harder to control. At 3:00 he can handle himself pretty well so by checking then, he isn’t melting down later – ta da!

Is bedtime now filled with 100% calm bliss? Hardly. But let me tell you, I am 100% happier and calmer and my kids are seeing a side of me that is much more enjoyable to be around.

For those also battling the bedtime blues, I took some other steps, specific to bedtime, that I will be sharing soon!

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