My Secret to Getting My Three-Year-Old to Bed without a Fight

Recently I had a “win” in my ongoing battle with my beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, adorable, wouldn’t-trade-her-for-anything-in-the-world, STRONG-WILLED three-year-old.

I learned a way to get her to go to bed without a fight, and I’m going to share that secret with you.

Now you must understand how truly selfless this is of me, because I’m fairly certain that once I hit “publish” and send this post into Internetland, my three-year-old will somehow get the memo and totally flip the script on me.

I suspect there will be hell to pay for leading others to believe she is anything but a darling little contrarian. But I’m willing to risk it because when you’re battling the so-called “Terrible Three’s,” dagnabbit, you need someone to throw you a bone now and again.

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[Photo by Patrick on Flickr.com]

A FEW DISCLAIMERS

  • My secret to getting her to bed without a fight is extremely simple.
  • You’re going to think I’m crazy.
  • I don’t know if this will work for you because every child is different, but you get to the point during the terrible three’s when you’re willing to try just about anything, am I right?
  • If it works for you, I don’t know how long it will work for you because eventually the novelty might wear off. But hey, a little break from the nighttime battles is better than nothing.
  • I don’t know what parenting experts would say about this; I just know it’s working for us for the past couple of months and it has been a most welcome reprieve from the bedtime drama we normally endure.
  • My daughter is 3 ½ years old. That’s important because she’s different in a lot of ways from when she was 3. Six to nine months have made a huge difference in the way she handles things. She melts down a lot less and she’s a bit more reasonable. If your child is closer to 3 than 3 ½, this might not work as well for you. But then again, it just might!
  • My husband and I have been consistently battling at bedtime with her for over a year. We’ve put in the time and effort to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Getting our daughter to bed every night has been a drama-filled exercise in patience, strategy, and hostage negotiation. (We – the grownups with college degrees and life experience – being the hostages.) So maybe this idea simply came at a perfect time when she decided it wasn’t amusing to fight us at every turn anymore.

TYPICAL BEDTIME SCENE

Okay, since you’re reading this post, you’ve probably experienced this scene:

It’s bedtime in your home and you think you’re super clever by getting started a whole half hour earlier than the last night because you don’t want to be finished at midnight.

You chase your naked child all around the house to get them in the bath, only to argue about whether or not they’re even going to take a bath. (“But you LOVE the bathie.” “No, I don’t!”) You get them in the bath, and then they don’t want to get out of the bath. You get them out of the bath and then they don’t want to put on their jammies. You give them the choice between the rainbow jammies or the Tinkerbell nightgown (or the batman or the fire truck jammies) because all the parenting books and blogs tell you to give your strong-willed child a couple of choices. They choose a third option you didn’t offer, but you’re just happy the jammies are on the kid.

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[Not my middlest one, but pretty close! Photo by: Stacy Wachter on Flickr.com]

You battle to brush their hair. Battle to brush the teeth. Endure the indecisiveness about which story to read. Finally sing a song or say a prayer (which they promptly begin talking over, giggling, or asking your random questions about a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode). For a moment you wonder if you will ever EVER be able to leave their room.

You tell them “Good night, I love you to the moon and back” no fewer than 8 times, and slip out the door…only to have the predictable yo-yo game ensue of being called back to their room or having them come out of their room for a drink of water, potty, or because they can’t find their favorite stuffed animal, the night light isn’t bright enough, and bleepity-blah.

If you’re lucky, that’s a good night.

If you’re unlucky, a bad night involves tears, tantrums, screaming, yelling and other sorts of nonsensical drama with a small person who can’t even spell but whose prowess for arguing is right up there with Gloria Allred’s!

A BREAKTHROUGH

I don’t really even know how it started because it’s been a couple of months, and Lord knows one of the side effects of being a parent of little ones is short-term memory loss. I think I read a story to my daughter earlier in the day about bunnies.

Just before bed time, I told her it was time to clean up and get ready for bed, and she looked at me with her big hazel eyes and said in a funny voice, “Hop hop.”

(In hindsight, I think that was one of my little genius’ classic distraction methods. We ask her to do something and she changes the subject. Folks, you’ve really got to be on your toes around here…. Otherwise, one moment you’re asking her to brush their teeth, the next moment you’ve put lotion on five different spots on her skin she said was itchy, gotten her a drink of water with the right amount of ice, run around the house looking for her favorite blanket, and ten minutes later she STILL has not brushed her teeth. “Wait, what just happened?”)

Anyway, when she said, “Hop hop,” for some reason I responded with, “Oh hi little bunny! Let’s go into your little bunny den and put your bunny jammies on!” (I told you that you were going to think I was crazy.)

And you know what? She ate it up! She hopped over to her room. I put on her bunny jammies, brushed her bunny fur, brushed her bunny teeth, read her a bunny story, prayed for her (for my human child, not a bunny, because praying for bunnies is ridiculous), and tucked her into her bunny den.

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[Photo by Funki Sock Munki on Flickr.com.]

And I left her room.

Let me clarify that: I left her room with no trouble at all. It was like I was dreaming, y’all! I kept waiting for her to bust out of her room, laughing and pointing and saying, “It ain’t ever gonna be that easy, fool!”

The next night, we did the same thing, only this time she decided she wanted to be a kitten. She said “meow” after every sentence, and I talked to her as sweetly as you would talk to any small creature.

It was a miracle…two nights in a row.

So far, my little one has been a bunny, a kitten, a puppy, a baby rainbow lorikeet (I know, random; we recently saw these at the zoo and she was obsessed for about a week), baby unicorn, a frog, a squirrel, an alligator and more!

WHY I’M NOT ENTIRELY CRAZY

My “secret” to a peaceful bedtime routine might sound totally silly to you, but think about it—kids LOVE silly. They love to play pretend, especially when you, the parent, join in on the fun. And I don’t know about you, but as a mom of three children—with meals to make, dishes to wash, floors to sweep and vacuum, laundry to wash, fold, and put away, and a gazillion other things on the to do list—having fun with my kids is definitely something I could use more of.

My tone changes into a fun, gentle one. And it just makes what could be an otherwise mundane activity suddenly fun and enjoyable for me, the otherwise boring mom!

Playing pretend is good for THEM too! It benefits their social, emotional, thinking, and language skills, and it nurtures their imagination and creativity.

Through this little game, we learn about different animals—where they live, what kind of habitat they sleep in, what they like to eat, what their skin or fur or teeth are like. For example, as I’m brushing her teeth, if she said she was a bat, I say, “I see fruit in your teeth. Were you eating yummy fruit today? Were you eating insects?” And whether the animal sleeps in a cave, den, nest, tree, burrow, or swamp, that’s what we pretend her bed is.

Also, it puts my children in a better mood! No matter what kind of whiny or contrary funk they might be in, if I suddenly say, “Oh, is that a little dinosaur over there? Come on little dinosaur, let’s go to the forest and nibble on some leaves!” everything changes. Like, magically. In an instant, they are joyful and engaged and COOPERATIVE. Fun times for everyone!

TWO RULES

Please don’t post nasty comments if your child permanently thinks he or she is an aardvark. I will refer you to my list of disclaimers above.

I know sometimes little ones go through phases of wanting to pretend all day long that they are a dog or a character from one of their favorite television shows, but we set rules with our middlest one right away, and here they are:

  1. We only pretend at bed time.
  2. If you whine or complain or make bedtime difficult, pretend time is over.

That’s it.🙂

In the comments section, let me know some of your secrets to a peaceful bedtime routine! And if you try mine, let me know how it’s working for you! (Unless your child permanently thinks he or she is an aardvark…then don’t.)

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