The following is by contributor Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.
“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” – Yehudi Menuhin
Routines are wonderful for creating continuity and a predictable rhythm in your family life. But what happens when the internal rhythms of individual members of one family are drastically different? Perhaps nowhere is this difference in personal rhythm more striking than at bedtime.
One Room, Many Sleep Patterns
We have three boys sharing one room. While our oldest is often hammered from the day’s activities, our middle son remind us almost nightly that he is “noctownal” and doesn’t actually need sleep. (Sometimes we almost believe him.) Our youngest still naps, so depending on how that goes each day, he may be out as soon as his head hits the pillow or he may still be winding down for a while. I’m certainly not ready to spend three hours in a revolving door of three separate bedtimes, so we had to come up with a routine that would fit different rhythms.
First you have to remember that whenever you give a child expectations, they have to be clearly attainable for young children and somehow possible for you both to objectively monitor.
You can’t immediately enforce “go to sleep”. (Unless of course you’re a master of hypnotism.) What you can realistically expect is that children stay in bed (with the exception of necessary trips to the bathroom, of course) and use quiet voices so that those who are sleeping won’t be disturbed.
Likewise, the request that children “stay in bed until morning” is not a clearly attainable expectation either. A four year-old may wonder, “Does morning start when I wake up? Or is it morning as soon as I can see a sliver of light through the curtains?” Many children may need a clear and observable way to know when the “wee small hours” have turned into “morning”.
Faced with a room full of boys with different internal rhythms and two parents in need of some sleep, we decided to hone in on these two expectations and make them clearly attainable and observable for our boys. Here’s how we did it.
First we tackled the expectation that the boys stay in their beds and use quiet voices, even if they don’t think they want to go to sleep yet. To help them meet this expectation, we introduced the bedtime baskets.
These are small baskets they keep in their beds with a selection of books and (for the older boys) some small, quiet toys like legos or small figures as well. This way, our boys have something to do while they wind down. They are able to stay in their beds and stay quiet, even if they aren’t quite ready to sleep. These bedtime baskets proved to be just the thing for our morning routine as well.
Photo by Derek Gavey
Just to keep things interesting, at our house, the night owl is also an early bird. For a while he had a habit of waking up some time between 5:00 and 5:30. Now that would have been enough of a challenge in itself, but I also happened to be pregnant with my third child at the time, and so the early morning wake-up call quickly became unbearable.
My husband and I realized that “stay in bed until morning” was too vague of an expectation for our young son to be able to attain or for any of us to objectively monitor. To make “morning” more concrete we used an outlet timer on the nightlight in our boys’ room.
The nightlight was set to turn off when “way too early in the morning” transitioned into “a decent time to get up”. In our home at that time, that was 7:00. When one of our little guys would wake up in the early morning hours, I would sometimes hear him playing quietly with the items in their bedtime baskets until it was time to get up or until they drifted back to sleep again. (You can read more about the bedtime basket and nightlight timer in this post.)
As Kara mentioned in last week’s post, finding the right routine for your family is often a moving target. As your family changes, your routines change as well. Whatever those changes may be, keep in mind that expectations within those routines have to be clearly attainable and allow for individual differences. Once you find a way to meet those two needs within the overarching rhythm of your family, that will indeed bring unanimity to the divergent, continuity to the disjointed, and compatibility to the incongruous.
How have you adapted your routines to allow for differences and individual needs?