Earlier this summer around bedtime, my daughter began complaining that a bunch of her friends get to stay up later than she does and asked me why she cannot stay up later. Rather than get into a disagreemen…t about bedtime, I simply told her that her friends who stay up later probably do not still have the elaborate bedtime routine that she and I do (bedtime story, talk time and snuggle time, which takes usually about 45 minutes). I told her it is completely normal to transition to a quicker, shorter bedtime as a kid gets older and asked her if she wanted to think about switching to that sort of bedtime, which would mean time to stay up later playing, but less time together in her room. She thought about it and told me that she would not like to do that every night, but maybe a few times she would like to try it and see how she likes it. And then she went to sleep happily without another thought.
A few days later, I asked her if she wanted to try that new sort of bedtime and she said yes. So she stayed up later and when it was time for bed, I told her that I would go up and tuck her in and she would just go to sleep. Suddenly, she was not too excited about the idea, and asked me if I would stay in her room for a little while and read her a bedtime story. I told her it sounded like she was reconsidering whether she was ready to move to an “older kid” bedtime and she agreed; she told me she still loves when I read to her and talk with her in her bed and snuggle with her and that she knows she is not ready to let go of that routine. I told her it is also completely normal for her to not be ready quite yet, and then I agreed to read her a very short story and snuggle for a quick few minutes, for which she was relieved.
About a week later, I asked her if she wanted to try the later bedtime/shorter bedtime routine idea again and she said no, she is not ready for that yet. So we agreed to put that idea on the back burner until she feels like she wants to try it again.
This interaction could have gone many other ways. I could have resisted her request to stay up later and we would have found ourselves in a power struggle. I could have shamed her for still “needing” such an elaborate bedtime routine at her age. But instead, I told her how I saw the situation and what I thought was happening, both with her friends and with her. As a result, rather than the message getting lost in a battle between her and me, my daughter was able to see the situation for what it was; whether she is ready to move to a slightly more independent phase of her growth. Clearly, she is not. But I also know her well enough to know that connection with others (especially me) is one of the most important things in the world to her. She is able to fall gently asleep only after she feels that all is right with the most important relationships in her little world. All of this is part of the normal developmental process, but sometimes, when we are not aware and present in such situations, we can get lost in the power struggle and then we both fail to see the situation for what it really is.