A silly bedtime routine helped my kids sleep better, created a fun bonding experience and helped ease my anxiety.
If you’re like, oh, a bazillion parents everywhere, bedtime pushes the anxiety meter up and up until it quivers near the “losing-it” mark.
The mere mention of toothbrushes and PJs sends my kids into spastic overdrive, running naked around the house, screeching with hilarity, hiding beneath sheets yelling: “You can’t find me!”
It’s the sort of scene that sounds cute when you’re not the mom, or when you’re the mom but it’s a few days later, or when the kid is 27. But in that moment, following 30 minutes of dinner negotiations and I’m eyeing the clock like a shuttle launch countdown, I’m in no mood for tomfoolery. I repeat my demands a million times but it’s open rebellion and I’m losing control. The more I insist, the more they giggle and squirm, trying to break down my stern-mommy exterior with laughter and I open my mouth to lecture them. Anger and impatience rise up, yells explode and tears flow, but finally I gain obedience (with a side of stewing for me, sadness and burst joys for them) and I ask that unanswerable question: “Why do I have to get angry for you to listen?” Blank stares, a shake of my head and, with everyone calm and submissive, we gather for a quiet bedtime story, move on to hugs and five kisses and seal the day with a wish for sweet dreams. Then I feel like complete crap for losing it. Later in the night I wake to my oldest crying about something, usually once, sometimes twice, a bad dream or something that upset her in the day. She has never slept well.
But one magical day (can you hear the tinkle bells) I read this post: the benefits of laughter at bedtime. The author and parenting coach, Kate Orson, is a friend I met through a blogging group . I’m not sure I’d have ever come across this idea but I’m so glad I did.
When I read this:
“Roughhousing, and lots of giggles, can help children release any stress or remaining tension from the day. It also helps to build the connection that children need to feel safe to separate from us and fall asleep.”(<–Click the birdie to Tweet that!)
I was skeptical, but it’s easy enough to try, so:
The Research Says …
Besides, take a look at what the Mayo Clinic says about laughter: Not only does it make us feel better and more relaxed it actually changes our physiology in a good way, making us healthier! I apologize for the excessive exclamation points here, but this is fascinating!!!
With that I launched the official start of “Silly Time,” complete with spreadsheet tracking because 1) spreadsheets are awesome and 2) because I don’t trust my brain to remember what worked and what didn’t. Sure enough, the nights we did “Silly Time” before bed, everyone slept through the night. If we didn’t for some reason — we ran out of time or I was just too tired — someone woke at least once with a cry, a bad dream, something. Only two times on a silly bedtime night did my kids wake, but it was not out of stress, it was because they needed something — water or a night light. After a month, I stopped tracking — there’s no need. It worked for us, so now silly bedtime is part of our bedtime routine for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a simple way to track your efforts (I used Y or N to mark if there was a correlation):
And here’s the kicker
Not only did it work for my kids, it showed me a few things about myself: That the bedtime anxiety I blamed on my girls was my fault. That when I give in to children’s need to play, something turns inside me.
If I’m grumpy and tired and, darn it, I just don’t care about silly bedtime, I grudgingly begin, half-hearted winding up and they start to laugh and they look at me, not just at me but they search me, beaming; and I give it a little more effort, and I force a silly face and they spin with hilarity; before I know it I have completely chosen this moment, this engagement, this new mood of levity and it takes me over; I’m flipping someone onto my back so that their feet become my bunny ears and their blond locks my bunny tail and we bounce from room to room and they can hardly breath from laughter; I chase them down with pull-ups and when I catch them I put the pull-ups on my head and they scream: “NOOOOO those are MINE,” and they fight for me to get them dressed for bed and I put their pajama bottoms over their eyes and their tops on their kicking feet and they cry out in fits “OH MOMMY YOU’RE SO SILLY YOU DID IT BACKWARDS!” And we all fall down, dressed and ready for bed. They tuck in happily and I leave transformed.
I could not have found a better piece of sleep-time advice and I only wish I’d have learned about this four years ago.
If you decide to give this a try, you will surely evolve your own giggle plans. But if you’d like, here are a few ideas for getting started:
- LAUNDRY BASKETBALL: Changing clothes we play laundry basket-ball. They toss their daytime clothes in the basket and we cheer like it’s a game.
- ANIMALS IN THE BASKET: Say: “You’d better not put any stuffed animals into the laundry basket,” which, of course, sends them hunting for toys to put in the basket, to which I play scream in the magical voice of HIMYM Robin screaming at Patrice “NOOOO Not the Giraffe OH NO!!!”
- RESCUE THE ANIMALS: Once the animals have filled the basket, someone has to rescue them so they race to rescue and safely return all the animals.
- NAKED BABY: Then pretend you can’t let a naked baby run around the house so you’d better chase them waving their pajamas like a wild fool.
- JACK-IN-THE-BOX: Let them hide under the blankets, stick out their arms and turn it while humming a song. When I stop singing, they jump up and I pretend to fall over in terrible fright.
- HILARIOUS BOOKS: Explore silly stories for bedtime like one of my kids’ favorites The Book With No Pictures.
It doesn’t matter what you do in the end, and once you get them started they will come up with ideas on their own. While you’re getting used to the new routine, you may need to reign it in with something that gets them focused. My kids love Cosmic Kids Yoga so I let them take turns “running a yoga class” of four or five poses and that brings them back to the room so we can wrap it up and head to bed.
Meanwhile, if you have reservations about getting silly, if you find yourself feeling, well, foolish (with maybe a hint of insecurity), check out this great read on the value of playfulness in adults and its connection with higher work performance and stress reduction.
What do you think? Were you surprised to hear about routines that emphasize roughhousing before bed? If you decide to try incorporating Silly Time into your bedtime routine, I’d love to hear how it goes for you in the comments below.
Dad pillow fight photo via Shutterstock