It’s time for your children to get ready for bed.
You say, “Time to go brush your teeth.”
One whines, “But I don’t want to brush my teeth.”
The other says, “I want to keep playing.”
Your spouse steps in and says, “You both need to get in the bathroom and start brushing those teeth.”
The children just complain and whine louder.
You threaten, “If you don’t brush your teeth now, there will be no story time.”
This just escalates the situation and now the complaining has turned into temper tantrums.
You probably know the basic “5 B’s” of bedtime routines: Bath, Brush teeth, Bathroom, Books, and Bed. To make bedtime peaceful and prevent bedtime tantrums, struggles and delays, it is always helpful to offer choices about these basic steps. For example, children can choose whether to take a bath at night or in the morning, brush teeth before or after bathroom duties, and how many or which books to read. If you find yourself handling temper tantrums at bedtime, offering choices goes a long way.
There are many other fun (and not too physical) games that you can add to these basics to help make bedtime peaceful. You may not always have the time or inclination to do these games every night, but if you frequently make bedtime fun, your children won’t resist bedtime as often when you follow the basic formula. Here are just a few games our family enjoyed, to give you some ideas. (Feel free to leave comments below for positive, fun but calming games you’ve made up):
- “The Yes/No game.” This game is similar to “20 questions.” Someone thinks of an object. Each person takes a turn asking a question that has either a “yes” or “no” answer. Here are some examples: “Is it alive?” “Is it man-made?” “Is any part of it made of metal?” We’ve been amazed that children as young as three-years-old enjoy playing this game. It is also a great traveling game.
- “Guess the feeling.” Each person takes a turn acting out an emotion and the others guess what the person is feeling. You may be surprised at how perceptive your young children are. The best part is that this game teaches children how to verbalize their feelings, which can prevent temper tantrums later.
- “Guess that animal” is similar, except you get to act like an animal!
- “Finish that story.” One person starts a story with “Once upon a time . . .” At some point they pass the story to the next person, who can continue the story however they want. Once, my husband finished a story about a little alien girl who landed in our living room and climbed under my son’s pillow. When my son looked under his pillow, sure enough, there was the little purple-haired alien doll!
- “Hey! How did that get there?” Along the same lines, my husband would frequently hide in his pocket or shirt a toy that was left on the floor. Then he would tell a story that somehow brought the toy to life and described how the toy got into its hiding place. Curious, the children would search him, and find the toy that had hidden itself!
- “Tell a story about us!” Before your memories of family adventures begin to fade, start a journal to capture them on paper. You don’t have to write in it often, but now and then the stories can transport you all back to all the joy and laughter of the moment.
- “Create Family Songs.” Our family made up two family songs. One to the tune of the Addams Family and another to a rap beat. We name our cars and made up a theme song about our old rust-bucket named Betsy.
- “Guess the story.” One person tells a familiar story without identifying the characters, such as a movie or family adventure. The rest of the family tries to guess who the story is about and/or the title.
- Forts and tents. Kids love to take blankets and make a fort to sleep in. Just limit this special activity to weekends and get agreements to be quiet and go to sleep after the lights are off. Don’t worry about starting a bad habit; soon enough they will be too old to enjoy this. They will never, however, forget the close, special memories they build with these forts.
- Back rubs and scratches. This is my personal favorite. Until I was almost twelve-years-old, I had a very special bedtime routine. It started with a “Charlie the Tuna Fish” story from my father. I honestly believed he had invented Charlie, because he was an artist and had painted a picture of Charlie — which I framed and hung in my children’s room. Next, my mom would scratch my back or brush my hair while she sang a song. My favorite was “All Through the Night.”
When I passed on this tradition with my own children, I found that my son, who was often tired and sore after a soccer game or practice, would share more about his day, while relaxing.
My daughter liked back scratches better. I draw letters, pictures, and do a little “X marks the spot” rhyme that gave her goose bumps. One of my parenting class graduates said her children never want her to stop, so she calls her finger a “magic pen” that eventually runs out of ink. This gives her a tangible time to stop, so the pen can fill up for the next night.
- “Ask any question.” This is a 10 or 20-questions game that can help children open up during their back rubs and scratches. You agree to rub/scratch as long as they are still answering questions and to limit the number of questions if they don’t like to share much. Soon, you’ll find they want to ask you the questions. This can lead conversations from “What’s your favorite color?” to “Why do you think children try drugs for the first time?”
You can expand this game to a round-robin of asking a question and the others do their best to give their opinion. One of the ground rules is that no one has all the answers and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Question can range from, “Who is God?” to “Why do we have ear wax?”
For many families, bedtime battles with children are common. Including fun, quality time with your child’s bedtime routine helps prevent power struggles, whining, and less time spent handling temper tantrums. More importantly, these games can make bedtime peaceful and turn it into a time for expressions of love, touch, and precious memories. This can help end the day on a positive note and you all can get the rest you need.
Children are naturally playful and imaginative, but these activities don’t take any special creativity from adults to play along. All you have to do is get the process started and the children take it from there. So get your creative juices going and make some special games of your own. Then feel free to share it in the comments section below.
If you want additional insights, information and practical tools and tips about other bedtime problems, read the other articles in this series: “Looking for Bedtime Routines to Make Bedtime Peaceful?”, “How Can I Help My Child Through Bedtime Tantrums Caused By Fear?” and “What Is The Best Way Of Handling Temper Tantrums At Bedtime That Are Caused By Toddler Separation Anxiety?”. You can also get the “Halting Bedtime Hassles Teleseminar” package. It provides step-by-step solutions to the Top Ten Bedtime hassles, so you can get your children in bed and how to keep them there through the entire night.
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
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