Why Does My Preschooler Always Call Me Back For “Just One More Thing” After Lights Out? (Which Is Really More Like Two Or Three Or Four More Things)?
You know that annoying feeling when you’ve finally got your child settled in bed at night and you’re mentally exhaling after a very long day, looking forward to finally being “done” for the night? You’re looking forward to eating something, a little Netflix, or even just tackling leftover work, the dishes, or the laundry?
And then you hear that little voice calling loudly from the bedroom, “Maaaaaaaahm?” or “Daaaaaaaaad?”
And you inwardly groan with exasperation, but outwardly pull yourself together and patiently go back to the child’s bedroom to respond to yet another request for water, a hug, to fix the blanket, to replace a missing stuffy, to respond to a “very important” question or thought about the day, or one of a hundred other silly things?
You’re not alone if you are frustrated by this. I venture to guess that almost every parent is.
And it’s not by accident.
Your child knows that you are turning your focus from them to yourself and your adult pursuits, or the needs of another child, and it unconsciously freaks them out. That feeling of not being your primary focus is unsettling for them, even though it's healthy. It also unconsciously freaks them out because small humans are biologically programmed to want to be near their adults at all times. It makes perfect evolutionary sense: stray too far from the cave and a little one might get eaten by a tiger.
However, we no longer live in caves and no longer have to fear tigers. So we have collectively decided to work against evolution in the pursuit of alone time to get chores done, relax, and get better sleep for everyone.
This means that we adults have to practice setting clear boundaries at bedtime.
Clear boundaries does not mean that we tell our child to stay in bed and they do it.
Clear boundaries means that we tell our child that we won’t come back after lights out and we stick to it.
We don’t respond to requests for attention after lights out. We fulfill all the requests before lights out and then, that’s it.
(Boundaries are things that WE do, not things that we ask OTHERS to do.)
This can feel really mean.
We worry that we will traumatize our children if we don’t respond. What if they think they aren’t loved? What if they can’t sleep without their water (which is next to them on the bedside table but maybe they forgot?), their 14th best stuffie, their blanket at just the right angle?
This is hard.
Secure, consistent boundaries are the best way to make children feel safe and secure. Far from traumatizing them, they actually feel a LOT safer when they know what the rules are and they see their adults do things the same way they say they will, every single time.
No child will say, “hey thanks for not giving me my 14th favorite stuffy back. I feel so much more secure now.”
But my clients report again and again and again that their children are so much happier when their parents put an end to the bedtime shenanigans. There’s a few hard nights and then peace reigns. Children are better rested and parents have their batteries recharged. It’s a win for everyone.
Doing this requires that parents have a strong stomach. Many of us have trauma from childhood that makes holding boundaries really, really hard.
Let me help you process that discomfort – no, you don’t have to dig into the trauma if you don’t want to – so that you can hold strong boundaries with your child, leading to a happier, more rested family. Schedule a free parent coaching session here and look forward to peaceful evenings for yourself.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.