At the ripe old age of “I’m almost 10” it happened. My son has asked me to stop laying down with him at bedtime. He’s a big boy now and it’s time to go to bed alone despite all the zombies outside his window and a forecast for a 50 percent chance of sharknados.
But I’m still in control. I inform him I will be laying down for a moment to read to him, scratch his back for 10 seconds, and say our prayers. I confidently assure him it will be quick and painless and I’ll be out of the room in no time.
Rewind four years to when we started this discipline.
I’m thankful for lots of great advice from professional psychologists who worked with me and my son during our transition to a single-parent home. To a person, they instructed me to maintain and improve upon his bedtime ritual to both provide comfort and promote a strong emotional connection.
His primary therapist insisted recreational book reading happen in bed because, in her experience, it enhances the emotional connection between parent and child. An added benefit I discovered was an overall easier time falling asleep because of the consistent and safe routine.
So, here are four things I’ve learned about bedtime:
* Bedtime stories (not associated with school) need to be read in bed. It’s a safe and comforting place to bond during reading. This, somehow, enhances emotional bonds between father and child. I don’t understand and don’t have any metrics to prove anything for certain, but I know my son’s emotional state was stable when I did this consistently. He had his moments (and me mine), but it must have helped.
* Just suck it up and scratch their back. After a long day (still anticipating folding laundry and doing dishes before I could turn in) the last thing I wanted to do was lay in some awkward position and scratch my son’s back while propping up my arm on a pillow so it didn’t fall asleep. But I knew it mattered. A lot. Touch is so important with our kids and a lot of us dads forget. So just do it. Scratch their backs and give them a good night kiss.
* Invite questions and conversation. Your kid will benefit from being in an emotionally safe place where they feel connected with you because they will be more likely to share their feelings and engage in some amazing conversations. Depending on your circumstance, your kid may experience some deep hurt, fear, and guilt – what can it hurt to let them know you welcome their questions or want find out what’s on their mind?
(DISCLAIMER) I have tried the question thing with mixed results. I told him he could ask me anything and I would answer honestly…even if my response was “I don’t know” or “we will need to talk about that when you’re older” or “that is a grown-up issue between your mom and me.” He occasionally pressed to get details about our divorce, but I stuck to my script (more on this concept to come in another post). Sometimes he said he didn’t have any questions or want to talk. That’s fine – it’s an invitation, not a requirement.
* If something has to get done before you go to bed, try to get it knocked out before the bedtime ritual. Your day probably began 15-16 hours before it’s time to lay down with your child. You will, occasionally, fall asleep. You will barely function after your brief, pre-bedtime nap. As they get older, this gets more important because their bedtime is closer to yours.
Connection with our kids keeps coming back to communication, time and touch. So, invest some energy into your bedtime ritual. It will make a difference.
If you miss a night here and there, don’t worry about it – just be as consistent as you can and know it will pay dividends.
As for me, I’m going to get this bedtime ritual in as long as I can, even though it’s abbreviated. Plus, you never know when a sharknado will strike.