During a get-together with some moms the other day, we started talking about Toddler Bedtime Battles. The discussion started with the potty training skirmishes and then we moved on to bedtime battles.
One mom said her daughter was potty trained quickly during warm weather. Why? No clothes. The toddler was so uncomfortable with the sensation of peeing that she started using the potty within a week.
What was even more fascinating was a different mom – who happened to be a sleep and parenting coach – said that designating a week for no clothes was a technique she recommended to parents. Those of us who used cloth diapers shared anecdotally that our kids were potty trained a little bit younger than those who use pull-ups.
It seems that human evolution is such that we’re not too keen on discomfort. When it’s possible to change the discomfort level, we’re very motivated.
Toddler bedtime battles are the result of an evolutionary principle that’s different than personal comfort.
When it comes to sleep, twenty-first century families are battling all sorts of potential sleep disrupters our never faced by our ancestors. There’s Thomas Edison’s invention and the ambient light that surrounds all but the most isolated rural communities. Electromagnetic fields due to anything plugged in is considered by many experts to adversely affect health and sleep. The distraction of the Internet coupled with blue light makes sleep deprivation a global problem according to Dr. Meir Kryger, a sleep specialist who works at the New Haven Veteran’s Hospital.
As human sleeping habits change radically with technology, there’s no DNA evolutionary “catch up”. This is particularly apparent in toddlers because they are just learning to regulate their emotional responses. Separation anxiety at bedtime is a real fear for them.
For millennia, families slept together. It’s how each generation survived. . Everyone was vulnerable at night, particularly the youngest among us. Separation within a community or from parents for a little one – well it wouldn’t make any sense for the hunter-gatherer family.
James Stuart Duncan, a designer, has this observation about bedrooms:
Before the nineteenth century, rooms tended to be multipurpose. Furniture was often shifted from room to room depending on what activity was to take place in a room at any given time of day or night. Servants often slept in the same rooms as family members and boys and girls slept with their parents, or all the children together. More often than not there were no rooms that served exclusively as bedrooms, except perhaps among the one percent!
So the kids’ bedroom is a relatively new concept in family life.
I’m not advocating one way or the other for a family bed or rearranging your own furniture every night – you have to do what works for your family. But we should be clear about the origin of one childhood worry about sleep. It has a human history.
Like all parenting issues, the toddler bedtime battles rely on a bit of our own personal evolution. I know…it’s tough…but we agreed to this journey for good times and bad.
We need to evolve – or simply be mindful because unlike the toddlers we love, we are capable of accessing our better selves. Patience, awareness, and loving boundaries will see our kids through these years where they’re naturally having some fear of saying good night.
Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting offers some compassionate and wise tips for frustrated parents in this post.
Parents will also find in this Washington Post piece which draws on research from Douglas Teti (Pennsylvania State University) a simple list of how our own awareness and staying calm makes a lasting truce for bedtime battles.
Keep calm, set up bedtime boundaries which include a bedtime routine that nurtures both caregiver and child, and soon enough your toddler will learn the all-important skill of sleeping.
Here’s one way to end bedtime battles: cuddle up with this illustrated book. It’s a guided meditation just for kids and sleep. You can download it by clicking here, or by filling out the form below. It’s recorded too so you can leave it behind and get a few minutes to yourself.