The Seven Stages of Putting a Reluctant Child to Bed

There is a thought among psychotherapists that people process grief in seven distinct stages. From my experience the same could be said of putting an unwilling child to bed; there are seven steps to achieving closure. Coincidentally putting children down to sleep is also like grief in that you can’t put a time frame on it and it normally involves a lot of tears.

  1. Joy

It sounds counterintuitive but problems are looming if a happy child is smiling back at the parent as it drinks its bedtime milk. Any ambitions of sitting down with a lemon squash in front of The One Show can be put aside if your toddler is gurgling away without a care. A single giggle can spell doom, that the game is going the distance, into extra-time and penalties. For a quick ‘putdown-and-run’ ideally the child should ideally be slightly peeved.

  1. Energy

If the child is not ready for sleep then the milk inside it acts like an espresso martini: it fills it with a new vigour for life and an irresistible compulsion to dance. I’ve watched on baby monitors as friends’ children have boinged across their beds before obediently settling themselves down to sleep but if I left my own sons they’d probably boing until sunrise.

  1. Confusion

The whole bedtime process is like reeling in a large and uncooperative fish. Sometimes the hooked fish should be allowed to swim out to the end of the line, tiring itself out before being coaxed back into the net. So after a protracted session of bouncing I gather my child into my cradling arms to enter the next phase. At this point the child will look up in bafflement as if to say: “What’s happening here? Is this a game? If so, please can you let me know the rules?”

  1. Denial

Before long the child begins to understand what is expected of them and protests against it in violent terms. The toddler may start jostling and scrummaging like a rugger. Often this part of the process can come to resemble an ill-conceived interpretative dance between parent and child.

  1. Acceptance

Eventually the child will start to feel fatigue but will attempt to keep spirits high with a song, a sort of anthem of resistance. This can be conceived as a single drawn-out note or a protest yodel. The parent should feel comforted at this point that progress is being made.

  1. Rage

This is the last thrash of the fish. The child sees the dying of the light and makes one last futile act against it. Normally this involves sustained physical abuse: fist-punches to the throat and gripping of the bottom lip to get traction for their escape. At this time the child’s eyeballs may also be rolling back in its head like it’s been possessed by an Old Testament demon so this bit is simultaneously terrifying and pleasing. The anger needs to be managed carefully as it can lead to puking, which adds clean-up time to the process although at least the parent learns what the child had for tea.

  1. Sleep

A child may finally go out like there’s been a power cut inside it. Literally it can be screaming and snoring within a second of each other. The first time I witnessed this I wondered if I’d broken the toddler. Once established that this is not the case then the child can be installed in the cot and the parent can go watch the News at Ten with a very strong lemon squash.

Any good?

17 thoughts on “The Seven Stages of Putting a Reluctant Child to Bed”

  1. I realised earlier this evening that there’s no point in the rage stage. Absolutely no point at all. The child simply does not care, and revels in your stress like a gleeful devil. Tonight we opted to bring the baby down to enjoy some Wimbldon highlights and help with some light social media, before returning her to bed, only swearing AFTER leaving the room. Seemed to work, just… #KCACOLS

  2. Ok so it has been a few years of putting a small child to bed but man some of those memories never.ever.leave. They run, scream, cry and soon you wish you could too. Great post!! #KCACOLS

  3. Well now, what can I say. Your observations suggest to me that a slightly more nuanced approach to bed time could pay handsome dividends. Have you tried, for example,1 strapping your infant to his bed, 2 fixing him with a determined brook-no-argument look before 3 swiftly and irrevocably closing the bedroom door ? I only offer this insight as I recall it did work with you. Here to help.

  4. My first child was a brilliant sleeper… they have got progressively worse. I dread bedtime with no 3, she just hates being put down full stop ever. Waaa! #KCACOLS

  5. I agree with this post totally apart from the bit about News at Ten… that’s way passed my bedtime! #KCACOLS

  6. Rage seems to be our current one – especially if it’s me putting her to bed and not ‘daddy’ (said in the most plaintive, hard done by little voice)…

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday!

  7. Haha, brilliantly written, I can imagine each stage exactly as it happens! We have a final stage at the moment which is the minute we put her down into her cot the eyes pop open as if to say “where do you think you’re going?!” And we have to start all over again! #KCACOLS

  8. Urgh, bedtime. The worst time of the day. I dread it almost every day, especially those when the toddler seems to have more vigour than usual. Loved the line about breaking the toddler, its amazing how they just zonk like that all of a sudden lol. Emily #KCACOLS

  9. I know how smug this might sound, but we never really had any problems with bedtime. From very early on we always had a more relaxed approach about bedtime. In the very early days we tried as much as possible to arrange our schedule to theirs. When they were tired they slept. More recently they get to go to bed about 8 pm / 8.30 pm and it seems to work a treat. The usual routine in the bathroom, then a story and one of us sits in until they are asleep ( which usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes ). #KCACOLS


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