Bananas at Bedtime

Words by Lisa Parkes


This week, I’ve spoken to two frazzled Mums who were desperate for some ‘me’ time after their kids had gone to bed. That was not to be because they had spent most of their evening running up and down the stairs or negotiating bed time. Instead of tucking in their children like Mary Poppins and singing them a sweet lullaby to gently send them to snoozy land, they found themselves turning into a slightly deranged squawking parrot repeatedly asking them to ‘Go to sleep now!’ 

At 10 paces, children are tuned in and can sense when you want to gallop down the stairs and put your feet up. This is not a conspiracy to stop you from opening the wine. Instead with our empathy heads on, we know that this is their last chance to be with you before they spend 12 hours sleeping. In their minds that means away from you. To add to that challenging mix of separation and fear, to get to sleep they have to be alone with themselves in the dark and for lots of us, that’s not easy. So bedtime becomes a combination of unmet needs (theirs and yours) and a huge power struggle. Let’s have a look at that….


Young children learn through play- they learn crucial problem solving skills for example through building models, or messy play,  or they may play act out strong emotions like telling their dolls off for being naughty and then giving them a hug.  

If you engage in rough and tumble with  your toddler, they learn that they can trust you and that they are unconditionally loved -which is important  for self-esteem. Imagination  games help toddlers to play out their strong emotions like sadness, jealousy, anger- which they may not yet have the capacity to process or even put into words, but through play they can learn to deal with and resolve these feelings. 



What are their unmet needs?  

At the end of a long day, children are first of all tired as I’m sure we are and that is why we want to skip off down the stairs to freedom. Lots of children are scared of the dark. Think about it – does your busy brain come to life at night time when the house is quiet? There is nothing else for you to think about is there? Children who worry about burglars breaking in or monsters under the bed have wonderful imaginations or big scary feelings that need a home to go to. This is what happens at night time, any residual feelings which they have stuffed into their emotional back packs during the day are stored there until it’s safe enough for them to come out. 

You are their safe space. Tucked up in bed with you there is often the time they emerge. They can and will come out sideways. 


What are your unmet needs?

I expect depending on the day you’ve had and what’s on your radar will impact on how you respond to your child. This is why self-care is all part of your emotional housekeeping. I know I keep saying that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish but are you hearing me? Some much needed time without your kids can make a world of difference to how you feel. 

The way you feel impacts on how you respond. The way you feel, impacts how your child responds. No pressure but they do tend to feed off you and follow your lead. All behaviours are driven by feelings so focus on those first.  


Make it about quality time for both of you 

Bed time is the perfect time to connect especially when you have been apart all day. So be prepared to invest time in connecting. Even if you need to bring the bedtime routine forward it’s not rushed, then do that.


You can minimise battles and stop going bananas by remembering to:- 

Agree a bedtime routine beforehand

Make sure you communicate clearly to your child bedtime rules. So if bedtime rules state, in bed with teeth cleaned by 7.30pm and lights out by 8, then you can be flexible around what happens so long as you all stick to the rules. Encourage your child’s input as this will give them an element of control and help reduce power struggles. Talk about what works and what doesn’t work for them and for you. Listen and observe what your child is telling you. Refer to the rules when things go a little off piste. 


Keep it calm for all of you

The road to Sleepysville is one without screens, sugar (stimulants) or shouting. If you want to play out your silliness or excitability by rough housing, you can do so before you go upstairs – not at bedtime because this will wake your child up! Laughter releases stress and feels good.I love a good boogie around the kitchen to Olly Murs. 


Remind yourselves of bedtime boundaries

Your ultimate power tools are empathy and boundaries. Something like: I can tell this is hard for you (empathy) and you are tired (observation). It’s hard for you to relax. I’m going to help you by doing stroking your hair / holding your hand / being close by (offer choices). I will do this for five minutes and we’ll see how that feels. Shhhhh it’s bedtime now and time to close your eyes (re-direct / guide). Lower your voice and be close. Follow through on your five minutes. 


Avoid power struggles by thinking differently

Recognise that any misbehaviour is a call for connection. It’s not personal – I know sometimes it feels like it is, but it really isn’t. it’s not a time to threaten or get into a power struggle. That never ends well at this time of the day (see above). 


Have a set routine and rituals

These act as signposts towards sleep and prepares your child to relax. It also helps children to make the transition and feel safe knowing what is coming next. How about: • a relaxing and detoxing Epsom salts bath with some diluted essential oils like lavender 


A guided visualisation or body scan

Breathing fromyour tummy relaxes the child into their body and releases chemicals which feel good / release anxiety) 


Help your child listen to their body

By paying attention and using thesenses to relax:

– Touch:  how about gentle stroking or massaging to relax their body 

– Sound – keep your voice low and slow, listen to soothing music or these lovely relax kids downloads 

– Sight – keep the lighting dim and have comforting visuals like family photos, stuffed animals and visuals which help your child to feel safe. The ‘I am Safe and Protected’ Smiley Thought Card is a favourite here. 


Be present and focus your attention on your child

If your mind is elsewhere your child will pick up on that and find all manner of ways to get you to notice them. If you find yourself feeling irritated or out of sorts, use your breathing to centre yourself. Tell yourself ‘there is nothing to say, be or do, just be with my child.’ Be in the moment. 


Get out of your heads

If your child is a worrier or scared of the dark, they will easily feel their thinking. Make sure you help your child get into their physical body and out of their head. Once you get on the worry train it’s quite hard to get off. 


Lisa Parkes offers coaching for children aged 7 upwards. She has taken tried and tested life coaching techniques and created fun, magical and practical tools to help make growing up that little bit easier.