Kids are funny creatures of habits. They thrive on routine and structure. My kids are no exception. We’ve always been keen to instil good boundaries and routines at bed time so that that have an understanding and anticipation of the ‘now and next’ of when it’s time for bed.
I don’t know about you but my kids latch onto really random things with these things being suddenly introduced as routine. For example; when Oscar was little he always had a ‘last play’ before bed. We obviously introduced the phrase ‘last play’ at some point by saying something like ‘Oscar now it’s the last play before bedtime. So this part of the routine was named as the ‘last play’. It wasn’t acceptable to Oscar that he played before bedtime and then it would be teeth and then bed – we had to announce the ‘last play’! So we’d have to say ‘Oscar it’s last playtime’. If we didn’t announce it in this way then as far as Oscar was concerned, the last play had not taken place!
Another little routine that came into being emerged through Oscar having a bad dream one night. Oscar woke early one night upset because he’d had a bad dream. James went into him and said to him thathe would whisper a good dream into his ear to make the bad dream go away. James is very creative and has a wild imagination just like the kids and so he came up with the mystical and wonderful ‘dream’ to replace the bad dream that Oscar had had and Oscar went back to sleep without a problem. This is where the ‘dream’ came about! Every night after his bad dream, Oscar would ask James to give him a dream. James even took to thinking up these ‘dreams’ throughout the day so that he would have some ‘material’ for that night time!
When Mabel was about 2 years old we used to have major trouble trying to settle her to bed. She was a pickle. Getting upset about random things, you know how it is?! So in order to distract her James invented characters to make her laugh. At this time Oscar and Mabel shared a room so of course Oscar lapped it up too. So James would go out of their room and return with his top over his head and his glasses on a wonk and would put on a funny voice with a story to go with it. I can’t remember what the first character was called now be over time we have had; Nanny Brenda, Uncle Roy and many many more. These have had us in fits of laughter and have diverted lots of tantrums. I won’t put any photos of James in character on here as I think he would divorce me if I did!
Mabel’s current bedtime routine at the moment is ‘one more minute’. Just as we say goodnight Mabel will ask ‘can I have one more minute Mummy’. By this she means that she would like us to sit in her room for just a short time while she settles into bed. Bless her!
One birthday James decided that he would make the kids American style pancakes. This has now become another routine. Any birthday, be it mine, James’ the kids, Christmas, Easter etc. We now HAVE to have pancakes for breakfast on all of these occasions! Oscar doesn’t actually like the pancakes any more but still, it has to be done – thats just the King thing!
A few years ago, before I became a health visitor I didn’t really understand the reason for these routines that crept into a our lives. However, since becoming a health visitor I now see the importance of these strange aspects of a family life. Children crave routine and boundaries as these help to make them feel safe and ‘contained’. The feeling of being ‘contained’ is described as that of feeling as though others can hold their emotions with them in mind. We as parents (or other signifcant people in children’s lives) need to be able to respond to children’s feelings so that the children feel safe with those feelings. This is the idea of containment.
They know what is coming now and next and this predictibilty helps to keep their emotions in check. I see many families in my role as health visitor where for whatever reason life is chaotic. It might be due to the fact that there is parental ill health in the household or substance misuse or domestic abuse. It can even be as the result of the children’s parents not having had structure and routine in their lives when they were children and so are unaware of how to create that in their own parenting.
So you see those weird little routines that you have are all good for those little monkeys in helping them feel contained. That’s not to say that they don’t push against the boundaries or routines that we, as parents put in place but that’s their job & our job is to be consistent.