My son hates going to bed, and the truth is I share his feelings about switching off the lights. The days are so busy that I crave time to stay up on my computer or watch TV. My son thinks that since I'm up he should get to stay up and have fun, too. We both wake up irritable in the morning and lately it's gotten so bad that his teacher is suggesting he might have ADHD because he's been misbehaving a lot. Any tips?
As our children's lives becoming increasingly packed with extracurricular activities, after school classes, and the constant stimulation of digital devices, evidence suggests that they -- like their parents (us!) -- are not getting the sleep needed for optimal functioning.
Despite needing rest, many parents push through fatigue to watch one more episode of their favorite show, or to scroll through a few more Facebook posts. Our children follow our lead, postponing shut-eye in whatever clever ways they can.
In her new book, The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington shares this:
One of the first steps in promoting good family sleep habits is changing the way we talk about sleep. In many families, sleep is meted out as a punishment to children: "If you don't eat your vegetables at dinner, you're going straight to bed." Children are taught early on that sleep is something to avoid as long as possible -- a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads every night--and that with sleep comes the end of play and fun. What a terrible message to send! We need to do a much better job of framing sleep in a positive way for our children, letting them know that sleep is a vital part of being able to play and have fun, and teaching them healthy sleep habits, including naps and transitions to bedtime, that will last a lifetime.
I understand that there's something delicious about a quiet house and the possibility of doing what we want without children underfoot. But most adults get vastly less sleep than we need, and our children are falling into the same unhealthy pattern as their parents: moving through their days beneath a cloud of fog and fatigue.
If you resist turning out the lights, it's not hard to understand why your son refuses to call it a day!
What if you start thinking differently about sleep? What if turning out the lights became a welcome ritual in which you both look forward to relaxing into the stillness of the night?
It can be helpful to to acknowledge your son's sadness when he realizes that the day is done. But you can develop more positive attitudes toward sleep if you see it not as the end of fun but an essential element to living a happy, healthy life. Talk with him about the amazing ways that our body, mind and spirit are replenished when we sleep. Explain how neurotoxins are literally cleansed from our brain when we drop into deep sleep, allowing us to awaken refreshed.
Create new bedtimes routines that include listening to music to quiet the nervous system, doing a few kid-friendly yoga poses, or using a pleasing essential oil in his bedroom to create a restful atmosphere. Use a projector that displays fish or stars on his bedroom ceiling to give his restless mind something to focus on as he slips into a quiet and peaceful state.
And don't be fooled into thinking that if your son is bouncing off the walls it means he doesn't need sleep. Overtired children may act quite energized, disregarding the body's cues that announce the onset of sleepiness. In The Sleep Revolution, Ms. Huffington cites studies suggesting that sleep deprivation in kids can make them hyperactive, even leading to a diagnosis of ADHD.
Change your story about sleep and your son will be more likely to follow suit. If you're tired at the end of a long and busy day... turn off the lights, feel your body relaxing, and go to sleep! A weary parent simply cannot offer the kind of steady support that makes life run more smoothly.
I wish you and your son many restful nights. Sweet dreams!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.