Bedtime limits and peaceful parenting

_english baby sleep bedtime limits peaceful parenting sleep coaching toddlers May 24, 2021

One more storieeeeee! Pleeeeease! How can I say no? I could choose a very short one and be done in no time! Am I mean if I deprive my own child of such a small favour? Alright, let’s give in. He will be quiet after the story… What??? Now a lullaby? That’s it you ungrateful little brat, I am leaving the room!
Does it sound familiar? Let me tell you what helps me holding my limits during bedtime. Spoiler alert: it is confidence. Because you can be confident that you can hold a limit about not telling one more story. Because NOT telling a story is, well… really easy. And the best things is: peaceful parenting is just a by-product!


Hello, everyone. It's Anna. Thank you so much for tuning in today. You are listening to The Baby Sleep Project Show, the place to learn about baby sleep and sleep coaching.

In my previous episode, I talked about how and why positive parenting is important, especially around bedtime. Today, I would like to elaborate this idea. So the previous episode was based on a study where researchers have found that decreasing household chaos or clutter decreases negative parenting in demanding situations.

In their study, they defined positive parenting as something that involves responsiveness towards the child, understanding and responding to the child's social cues, showing warmth and enjoyment, and stimulating parenting. Whereas negative parenting was defined as involving dysfunctional discipline, like laxness, overreactivity, verbosity, anger, and hostility towards the child.

So there is another very well-known categorization for parenting styles. It is based on Diane Baumrind's work in the 1960s. She categorized parenting styles based on four main dimensions: expectations, nurturance (support, warmth, understanding), communication style, and discipline style. And she defined four parenting styles based on these four main dimentions. And I think the two dimensions that are most clear and easy to understand are expectations and nurturance.

So each of the four types that she defined could be defined by either low or high expectations and low or high nurturance or support. So the first type is authoritarians or disciplinarian parenting. It is characterized by high expectations and low nurturance. Discipline is strict. There is punishment and no negotiation. So it is the type of parent who says, "My way or the highway," or, "Because I said so." Or the type of parent that doesn't negotiate any kind of rules that he sets up. It is also characterized by one-way communication; from parent to child. So there's little listening to the child. There's little understanding of the child. Basically, the parent defines the rules and has high expectations for the child to abide by the rules.

The second type of parenting is permissive or indulgent parenting. It is characterized by low expectations and high nurturance. Rules are limited so it is the opposite of strict, and communication is open. And there is a lot of warmth and understanding of the child. The third parenting style is uninvolved, where there are low expectations and low nurturance. There is no discipline. Children can do what they want and there is little to no communication between the parent and the child.

And the fourth type is authoritative or peaceful parenting. It is characterized by high expectations and high nurturance. The rules that these kinds of parents have for the children are clear and they explain the reason behind these rules and there is room for negotiations. So they take into consideration what the child wants and what the child feels. And there's good communication between parent and child.

This last one, the authoritative style, is the most beneficial to children. The name authoritative, I think, is very easy to confuse with authoritarian, which was the first type, the high expectations and low nurturance style. So I will call it peaceful instead. Another reason I will call it peaceful is that you might know the work of Avital Schreiber Levy, aka The Parenting Junkie, and she calls it peaceful, too. She's a peaceful parenting coach.

I've mentioned before that I have enrolled in her year-long parenting course, Present Play. And actually, yesterday, I listened to one of her coaching sessions. It was about bedtime routines and how to make it work in multiple kids. The session was more about mindset; what mindset parents should be in during bedtime rather than the technical aspects or details of bedtime.

And what she described there was basically positive parenting or peaceful parenting. You can see that between the two systems of parenting styles, positive parenting is basically very similar to peaceful parenting. So I believe that peaceful parenting is always important in all kinds of situations for three reasons. First of all, because it is most beneficial to the children. It is the best for children's development. It has been shown that it leads to the most well-balanced adults.

Secondly, it is best for the parent-child relationship. And last but not least, it feels the best. So you might get what you want in most situations with an authoritarian or disciplinarian parenting style, but it doesn't feel good. And there are some situations where it doesn't work either, for example, bedtime.

Bedtime is a very demanding parenting situation because it is one of the biggest transitions. Transitions are when you switch from one activity to the next. And usually, these are sources of conflict and lead to tantrums and meltdowns from the child. For example, coming home from the playground, or getting ready for school, or sitting down for dinner. So bedtime is a difficult transition, but it is the one transition where you cannot win by force. This is really important to understand.

You cannot make a child to fall asleep. You cannot punish or yell at the child to make him fall asleep. On the contrary, if you punish your child or yell at him or show anger towards him, it increases his stress levels and that prevents sleep. So it leads to the exact opposite of what you wanted to do. Everyone has to be calm and feel safe to be able to fall asleep. So positive parenting is especially important during bedtime.

So you have to lead by peaceful parenting instead of being authoritarian. You have to exude calmness and confidence to set the mood for sleeping. So let me tell you my story to illustrate this point; to illustrate why positive or peaceful parenting is important for bedtime. I have mentioned before that my son has nighttime fears. I think it started in September. So one of us, me or my husband, had to stay in the children's bedroom until my son fell asleep.

This might be surprising since my son never needed our help to fall asleep since birth. He was kind of accidentally sleep-trained at a very young age, but he never had problems falling asleep or staying in bed. So he's a very, very good sleeper. But since we saw that his fears are real, we didn't want to leave him alone with this. And it was okay for us to stay in the room because we could read or work in the room quietly. And he didn't mind.

So we'd usually bring our laptop or a book and we are just there. We don't do anything. That was the routine back in September and maybe a little bit later. And then we saw that his fear started to decrease. So we started to wean him off of our presence in the room. So, usually, our bedtime goes like this. After bath and brushing their teeth, we go to the room with the kids and we tell them one story each. They choose a book and we read the story. And after that, they go to bed. We stay in the room and they are allowed to read to themselves and then they can switch off their nightlights whenever they want. And then they fall asleep.

So we started weaning him off our presence by not staying in the room while they read to themselves. So we said that you can read for like 20 minutes, half an hour, and then call us when you're finished and just switch off your lamp, and then we will come in. The rationale behind this was that he was mainly afraid in the dark, even though there was a little nightlight on, but that didn't provide enough light, I guess. Also, he was more afraid when he was not occupied. So as long as he had his book and turned the pages, it was fine. But when he finished and kind of started to be bored, his fears appeared again.

So, first we did this and then after that, we came up with excuses like , "I will come in soon, but I will have a shower first." or, "Just wait until I drink my tea and then I will come in," and things like that. And that worked and many times, he fell asleep on his own. We could see that he wasn't that afraid anymore. But then, a few months ago, his fear started to appear again. Now, he's afraid of death and he says that he doesn't want to die.

I'm pretty sure that coronavirus plays a role, although, fortunately, we didn't lose anyone to the virus. But I guess he heard the adults talking. He heard the news and maybe that was too much. So now, we are staying in the room again. And a few weeks ago, it started to escalate. He started to demand one more story or one more lullaby. And he started conversations. He asked us things. He wanted to tell us things.

And you know when you give in to these demands, they starts to pile up. And after you've sang a lullaby one or two times after lights out, then it becomes a given, like a habit. And after that, there's no question that there should be a lullaby after lights out. And then he comes up with the next demand and it gets more and more elaborate. And the whole bedtime routine just starts to drag and starts to be just too long.

So it made me frustrated. The usual scenario was that I first said, "No. No more lullabies, no more stories." But after the tenth request, I gave in. I thought that, well, it seems reasonable. That lullaby is so short, why can't I sing it? So I did, but then I was angry at myself because I gave in, because I didn't hold my limits. And after that, he, of course, came up with another thing, another demand. And he pleaded with me and then I became angry with him because how ungrateful it is that I just gave in and I just provided him with another lullaby, and now, he wants another story or he wants relaxation or whatever.

So sometimes it made me very angry and I yelled. And then he cried and we made up. And I said sorry an he had sorry, and then he fell asleep. So that was a whole drama and stress, the whole situation. A few days ago, I decided that I will hold my limits. There would be no talking, no extra lullabies, no anything after lights out. I will stay in the room, but I will not provide any entertainment after lights out. And I also decided to try and stay peaceful. I thought it would be very difficult because I thought that his demands would annoy me, but it wasn't the case.

So once I was sure that I will not give in, stress just disappeared from the situation. Just because I knew that whatever happens, I will not sing another lullaby, just because of that, his demands did not cause any stress in me. And it was really surprising that just deciding not to give in, just deciding to hold my limits, actually removed the stress from the situation.

So I started to think about it and I realized that previously, I was stressed, partly, because I constantly debated myself in my head. And also, because I was afraid that I would give in. So that caused the stress. And after I gave in, I was angry with myself and with him. So, of course, I couldn't stay peaceful. But once I made it clear that this is the limit that is reasonable because they have stories, fairy details, everything before lights out, I knew that I am not mean for not doing what he wants and I don't have to feel sorry for him. Pleading with me just won't work.

I also knew that this limit is clear. I explained it before. He knows it. He understands it. And this is a limit that is very easy to hold. It is really easy not to sing. I can do it. I am confident about it. So, after this, there was no stress, no anger, and staying peaceful was easy. So what I did when he came up with these demands, I just shushed. Sometimes I answered yes or no randomly, or I said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow, " when he came up with something he wanted to tell me. The only thing that I tried to enforce was that when he's talking to me, he's quiet.

I didn't even say, "Don't talk to me," because that would have engaged him in a conversation. And I didn't want to have a conversation. I just read my book and that's it. I was just there. Sometimes I said yes, no, or shh, or "Let's talk about it tomorrow," and that's it.

And what was the effect? There was no drama, no crying. He fell asleep a little bit sooner than previously, but he just fell asleep the same way. There was no big difference. But the biggest difference was that it felt good. I felt good. I was calm and happy the whole time. Most importantly, I wasn't exhausted after I left the room. So he fell asleep just the same, with me in the room, but I protected the relationship from another drama and my whole evening was peaceful and pleasant.

So if you are in a similar situation, if you have the same struggles, then my advice is just decide what your limits are, and be confident that you can hold these limits. And if you have to break down these limits, promise to yourself that you will keep this limits. And believe me, that just knowing that you will hold these limits will remove the stress from the situation and it will be so much easier to stay peaceful. And if you are peaceful, it's so much easier for your children to fall asleep.