I’m not sure how it happened but bedtimes recently went from being pretty good to being a bit of a mess in our house. My room-sharing older two have become bed phobic and are rarely asleep before 9pm these days. This is bad for many reasons, one being that four year old M is shattered and foul tempered the next day.
But is is also bad because it really screws up my evening. Between about 8pm and bedtime is my only down time and I really bloody need it. But, unsurprisingly, I find it impossible to relax after a hectic day when repeatedly yelling up the stairs or running up and down to deal with feral children. I just get more and more wound up.
It happened so gradually that I don’t really know when bedtime changed. There was always a bit of chatter and giggling before settling down but it has escalated into full on galavanting about all evening, driving me completely insane. It could be connected to the lighter evenings. Who knows. Whatever is causing it, my mission this week is make it stop. For the love of God, please stop.
With three kids, you have to be pretty organised with your bedtime routine. They have dinner by 5, baths done by about 6:30, swiftly followed by Baby T’s bedtime, down by 7. So far, so good. Then we have homework, reading and bedtime for the older two, with an aim that they are in bed by 7:30 or 8. There is always a good deal of messing about and giggling from their bunk beds but I reckon if there is silence up there by 8:20 or so, we are doing OK and M is getting near on her full quota of sleep. Plus, I can have a glass of wine and watch crap on TV in peace before I collapse into my own bed at about 10:30.
This all sounds nice and easy, right? And it can be, when it works. There is a lot to be said for a strict bedtime routine, both for the kids and for the parents. But right now it is a long way away from working and it all falls down the moment the timetable comes to an official end and I kiss my little monsters goodnight.
Just so he doesn’t get tarred with the same brush as his older siblings, I must just point out at this juncture that Baby T is an absolute angel at bedtime. I know! Who would have thought it, eh? He is an complete devil about most things but, for some reason, bedtime isn’t one of them. He is a total joy and I adore him even more for it. He happily waves ‘Ga Ga’ to everyone, clambers up stairs for teeth, story and sleeping bag then quietly plays with his cars in bed until he drifts off. My sleepy, happy bundle of blonde fluff.
It is a different story for H and M. They get into PJs, do teeth, even say how tired they are and how they can’t wait to sleep sometimes. But as soon as I’ve said goodnight and gone downstairs, something possesses them. All thoughts of sleep have gone out the window and they get out of bed, run about, shout, laugh, throw things, go to the loo five times, climb into each other’s beds and generally monkey about. It goes on and on, and no amount of going up and down telling them off seems to work.
The real problem is my angelic looking little M. I used to blame H and tell him off for keeping his little sister awake but I know better now. M is the loudest and naughtiest at bedtime, despite being the one who really needs her sleep. And the problem is that I have no punishment on tap that really works with her. With H, all I have to do it threaten to deprive him of computer games and he crumbles. M just doesn’t care enough about anything to mind about me taking it away as a punishment. And I can’t very well threaten to take H’s toys away without threatening the same to his sister, the ringleader, so the whole thing falls apart.
So, I’ve abandoned my entirely useless stick and am trying some carrots in the form of reward charts, coupled with a new even more strictly timed bedtime routine but with half an hour bedroom playtime built in. We’ve had mixed success so far but I’m hopeful, as allowing them time to play in their room seems to be paying off. Basically, it has to work or I’ll cry.
I’ve used reward charts in the past for various things and I have to admit I’m not that keen, especially if you are really trying to correct bad behaviour, rather than reward good. The tricky bit is knowing when to turn the final warning into a fail. And once the fail her been decreed, where do you go from there? Your big gun has fired and the kids are still being horrific. So, you are back to fruitlessly yelling and getting upset. It isn’t ideal.
The worst thing about using reward charts with two kids is the fall out from one going up the chart and the other one failing to. Cue a week of meltdown and misery about how the other kid is going to get the reward first and how unfair life is, until I relent and make up some good behaviour, just to even the score and stop the whinging. And then the other kid kicks off at the injustice.
Another thing I don’t like about those pesky charts is how you wrap things up when you don’t need them any more. In an ideal world, you have corrected the problem behaviour with weeks or months of charts, but then what? Do you keep doing the chart forever? By then, you are out of pocket because you have bought numerous treats and stickers and you are now basically rewarding your kid out of habit for something they really should have been doing right in the first place. What do you do? Stop the chart, right? But then the now well behaved kid isn’t being rewarded any more and, quite understandably, gets the hump. It is a reward chart minefield out there, I tell you.
So, they are not ideal in my book, but we now have two charts stuck on the wall – I told you I’m getting desperate, right? It is worth a shot. However, rather than spend a fortune on expensive charts and stickers this time, I have downloaded them and they have little men on bluetack going up and down. In your face, expensive reward chart and sticker manufacturers! Small parenting win.
We’ve been using the charts for about a week and there have been two fails, so the men are on number five. Not a bad start. Last night was officially a pass, despite the fact that, in my absense, Daddy didn’t even get them upstairs until after 9pm. What can I say? It wouldn’t have happened on my watch.
As a result of yet another late night, M has been exceptionally foul today. She has broken down in tears about eight times over the smallest of issues and been incredibly moany and irritating. She doesn’t even know what she is upset about half the time but has a permanent scowl on her angry little face. The joys of a tired four year old.
If the reward charts fail, more drastic action maybe required. Sadly, we don’t have a spare bedroom to enable us to separate them but staggered bedtimes could be my next move. I’m reluctant to do it as M get so upset about being up in her room without her brother but she is driving me to it. Perhaps I’ve just found a stick that might actually work on my naughty little M. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. She just has to stop being an arsehole at bedtime and everyone would be a lot happier.
Back to the routine tonight. Charts at the ready, wine on standby. M has already vowed to go straight to sleep at bedtime, to which I sweetly smiled and nodded but inwardly laughed in her face. I’m sure she means it now. But as soon as I tuck her in, I know it will be a different story.
Wish me luck.