Healthy children grow into a blend of values and skills shared by their parents. This blend is part of learning to make compassionate choices which benefit everyone.
For a long time, many fathers have been excused from children’s character formation because they were doing something ‘more important’ away from home. Fortunately, that exemption is no longer acceptable.
Good fathers are now being recognized for their critical emotional input, which has outgrown the reputation of “women’s work”. Children feed from their father’s emotions and benefit when their fathers dedicate themselves to understanding and communicating their emotions while listening to and understanding their family’s.
The first installment in this 3-part article dealt with embodying comfort at bedtime. The premise was that embodying comfort for your infants and children establishes a routine of well-being that can happen every night.
Once you have established your own personal habit of embodying comfort (see the first article), you can move on to designing a routine which grows with your child and you.
This article concerns itself with structuring bedtime, and gradually introducing and sharing choices with your child that are routine. This sharing of routine choices is valuable to both character formation and sleeping soundly and waking refreshed.
Nightly Routine: Physical, Mental, Emotional
Choose a bedtime.
Brainstorm with yourself and your partner about what time works for all of you. Stick to the time without becoming afraid or demanding if you are a little bit late or the pattern gets shifted by something unexpected. Keeping the Comfort rule, let your child know that other activities are ending and getting into bed is starting. Here is where offering a choice enters.
Offering choices: Transition conversations are a way of creating choices. You’ve already made the decision about what’s going to happen, and now you have the choice of offering how it happens to your child. They get a choice in each step.
I’ve set the timer and when it goes off we’re going to start moving to bed. Would you like to turn off the timer or would you like me to do so?
Would you like to finish doing what you’re doing before bed or save it for tomorrow?
Would you like to have your bath before you brush your teeth or after?
Would you like a piggyback ride to your bedroom?
How the transition happens is based on the understanding that we’re going through the routine.
Life has made parents physically bigger (for a while) for a reason. If your child tries to negotiate more time to play, watch a screen, etc. by whining, ignoring you or arguing, keep your cool and pick them up. Your size and strength are a lesson, as are the emotions you use with them.
Pick them up playfully, without anger, and you’re teaching them how to transition from resistance into acceptance easily.
Many fathers didn’t feel the power of their own dads except as emotional or physical pain. Bedtime routine is a time for you to be gentle, strong, decisive. Simply lift them into what we know is good for them. Keep your heart light, playful.
My wonderful wife, Clare extols the adults who read books to her when she was too small young to know what they meant. But they had an impact on her life.
Our children think we can do anything we choose; making them the object of our attention is a powerful experience for them. When you join them in their interest in a story, they naturally grow a sense of self-valuing.
Would you like me to read to you in different voices or my regular voice?
What book do you choose to read tonight?
Would you like to read from a picture book or a word book?
What do you think is going to happen?
Storytime is also a great opportunity to build letter recognition and word skills. Keep it simple, be sure to encourage and expect success.
Move to the bathroom.
Would you like to pee before or after your bath?
Which toys would you like in the tub?
Would you like me to wash your hair or would you like to?
Shall I wash your back or do you want to use the brush yourself?
Warm water and a little bit of play are comforting for infants, toddlers and children. ….and you. Bathing is initially a time of protection, keeping your child safe while you do the cleaning. Gradually you turn over the action and stay nearby, appreciating, participating.
Stay off your phone. Take in the miracle you are watching. Stay engaged. Play along with the game in the water. Let your child’s imagination spark your own. Maybe you reach in and play in the tub. They always have a game. Bath time is chance to loosen up your play. Big men can play too. Lighten up, let go.
Brush your teeth.
Our wonderful daughter taught her daughters that ‘sugar bugs’ would eat their teeth in the night if they didn’t get washed off. By the time her first was old enough to understand this was a metaphor, she had established the brushing habit. Her playful attitude and creativity were her way of being strong as well as comforting.
“How many sugar bugs are in your teeth?”
“Now, how many sugar bugs?”
Offer your child a choice in clothing.
“Do you want to wear these or these?”
“Do you want my help putting them on?”
Talking and Touching
In the comfort of their bed, with lights low and dad right there, can be a perfect time for you to learn what’s really going on inside your child. Impressions, goals, experiences, questions, confusions can all become part of your understanding your child.
Touching your child as you speak is comforting. Being the focus of their fathers’ gentle, powerful hands, can be calming and comforting.
A child whose father listens deeply learns what it feels like to have a choice in getting dad’s attention. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that your child is important in the world.
“Tell me something you remember from today.”
“What would you like to dream about?”
“What do you love in the world?”
“Do you want to know something I love in the world?”
Gently singing together can be very comforting.
“Do you know a song you would like to sing?”
Breathing together can be a powerful relaxant for both of you.
“Let’s count five breaths together.”
“What word would you like to breathe together?”
“Which word would you like to breathe in and out to bring dreams?”
“What color would you like to breathe?”
Original Play is a great video to help you understand what to do at bedtime.
In case you missed it, read part one:
Bedtime can be difficult to manage. Remaining adaptable means willingness to change as the situations change.
Photo credit: Getty Images