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Like most other families I know, bedtime has to be one of our most challenging times of the day. We’re all exhausted at the end of the day. The children are determined to stay up and invent every excuse under the sun to avoid bedtime. My husband and I hurriedly try to get the kids down so we can tidy up and cram in some desperately needed time to ourselves.
Bedtime is a battle.
It’s a battle that repeats day after day. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle that we can’t seem to break.
I need to go potty.
I need water.
I need to go potty.
I need cream on my feet. My arms. My face. My legs.
I need snuggles.
I don’t want Daddy. I need Mommy.
I need to go potty. I’m pooping!
I want a story.
I need water.
Some nights it lasts up to two hours. Two hours of negotiation. It shouldn’t be like this. We know we shouldn’t give into demands. We know we shouldn’t run up and down the stairs to actively engage in the debate. We know we should be more firm. We know we should be doing something—ANYTHING different.
Our patient, gentle suggestions of encouragement turn into harsh responses and eventually yelling. “GO TO SLEEP!”
All we wanted was a calming pre-bedtime routine.
We finally dig in our heels but it’s too late. Everyone is overtired. Our toddler is beyond pissed off, screaming bloody murder. “BE QUIET!” we yell, praying that our battle doesn’t wake her baby brother. Great, now he’s crying, too.
This is the exact opposite of the calming wind-down pre-bedtime routine we were aiming for.
Why, for the love of God, can’t this be easier?
Bedtime is one of the few times of day where our children actually have influence. Sure, we can make them go to bed but we can’t make them sleep. I know. I’ve tried EVERYTHING. We can’t even make them be quiet so at least the other one can sleep. In order to make bedtime go smoothly, our kids have to want to go to sleep.
In fact, I think the only person who actually wants to go to sleep is me.
Behold: the secret garden technique.
A few months ago, a friend recommended Starbright, a guided meditation book for children. I loved the idea of it because I enjoy meditation and have found it extremely useful for my own sleep. However, I was skeptical. Obviously it wouldn’t help our baby (he just tries to eat books) and I wondered if my 3-year-old daughter was a bit young. Would she have the patience to listen to a story, without pictures, and be able to relax at the same time?
I was willing to try pretty much anything at this point so I purchased the book and we began reading it at bedtime.
After tucking in my daughter, we choose one of the short stories. All the stories take place in a garden, which we have created together over time. The garden is her safe haven and it’s a place for to explore, play, and wind down.
The meditation stories are extremely descriptive. I’m not sure my toddler understands some of the terms, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She listens, and thinks, and imagines.
The meditations don’t have a pre-determined ending. Instead, they leave her to further explore the inside of a tree, having a dinner party with a panda bear family, or drifting lazily down a river. The open-endedness lets her continue her journey until she falls asleep.
This technique has been a game-changer.
My daughter looks forward to her meditation stories each night and eagerly heads to bed. Many nights, one meditation story is all it takes. No fighting. No drama. She enters dreamland easily.
Do we still have nights that are a battle? Yes. However, over the past three months we’ve had significantly more good nights than bad.
The battles now occur after she’s in bed. When she’s restless, I start to ask her what happened after I left her in her garden. She tells me all about her explorations and I gently guide her back into a relaxed state. It takes a few minutes, but it pays off.
She is learning to use her imagination to calm herself. When she wakes with nightmares in the middle of the night I will take her back to her garden. I will take her back to her animal friends and her favorite tiger is there to protect her. It doesn’t take long for her to get back to sleep.
Meditations have made bedtime a lot easier.
I look forward to reading these stories, which are descriptive enough that I don’t have them memorized like many of her other books. This forces me to be present with her. We change the stories together and make them our own. I feel more connected to her because I get to peer into her imagination and see what makes her calm and happy.
I see her stories translating into how she views the world. On a recent walk she went to touch a flower, and told me she had to be very gentle. “Flowers like gentle touches Mommy.” A concept she got from her book.
Guided meditation has injected peace to our bedtime routine. Has it been a magic bullet? No. Has it been a game-changer? Yes. Everyone has benefited, even our baby boy who no longer has to witness the chaos of bedtime and can get a little extra sleep.