How to Put Your Kid to Bed Without Any Fighting
…is the name of the blog post I've been looking for forever. It doesn't exist. Don't bother Googling it. If you try now, all you'll find is this post, and you'll probably be mad when you start reading the post and realize that I have no idea how to do what the title suggests. I do know the method we use, and it tends to work more than it doesn't. All you need is eternal patience, the willingness to let go of all control, 30-90 minutes, and these 7 steps.
Step 1: Plant the Seed
Around fifteen minutes before it is time to put our daughter to bed, Stevie and I start yawning a lot and mentioning how tired we are. We speak in incredibly obvious terms about how much we've done during the day and how all the things we've done are the reasons we must be so tired. Then we ask Duchess what she did that day, and react with astonishment at how she could possibly STILL be awake! "I can't beeeelieve you're still awake! You've done sooooo much today! You must be sooooo tired!"
We have to be careful to turn off our exaggerated toddler communication voices when we leave the house, or we sound either really condescending or really drunk.
Step 2: Watch Pajanimals
Pajanimals is a show that is on Netflix. It's produced by the Jim Henson Company and is about a Duck, Cow, Dog, and Horse and how they get ready for bed. They're only ten minutes long, and each episode has four songs: the intro, two other songs, and the lullaby song. They are tolerable tunes with cute themes and harmonies, and the repetitiveness made it easy for Duchess to memorize all the words. Within a week she was singing them all. Within a couple days I was wondering how a human mom had four talking animal children, each one a different species. I'm an open minded guy, but that mom must have done some crazy shit in the 90's. Maybe they're adopted.
Step 3: Say Goodnight
Depending on whose turn it is, one of us stays downstairs with the sleeping meat blanket that is our Captain, and the other ventures off into either epic cuteness or unknown peril of the bed time process. But first, Duchess needs to say goodnight. To everything. Goodnight Mommy, goodnight Captain, goodnight Cowbella, goodnight Squacky, good night Apollo, good night Sweet Pea Sue. Those last four are the names of the Pajanimals, and yes, I typed them all from memory. It took me a year to learn all of my in-laws’ names; it took me three weeks to learn the Pajanimals'.
Step 4: Nope. No next step yet. We're still saying goodnight.
Goodnight light. Goodnight toy room. Goodnight toy room light. Goodnight stairs. Goodnight door. Goodnight other stairs (We live in a split level). Goodnight living room. Goodnight Riley (our dog). Goodnight whatever random object I see that will allow me to delay moving on in this process.
Step 4 (for real this time): Brushing Our Teeth
Duchess gets to pick out her toothbrush. She only has one, but she gets to be the one to take it out of the cup. If you dare remove Duchess's toothbrush from the cup for her, then not only are you Satan, you have also may as well of pulled a fire alarm with no off switch. As my wife said to me once, "Just let her pick her her damn toothbrush." And let her go first at brushing. And let her run her toothbrush under the water as many times as she wants and suck the water out of it. Do not interrupt this process. She will tire of it eventually. I promise. There are times where I have gone into the living room and read a magazine while waiting for her to finish. She will finish. When she does she yells "I'm done Daddy." Then I go back in and put toothpaste on the brush and actually brush her teeth. When I remind her to spit, she refuses to look into the sink and spit, so it usually just spits down the front of her chin. Remember that post when I thought my kid might be a genius? Ha!
Once Duchess is done brushing her teeth, we move into the bedroom. Put her pajamas on and move on to books. Yes, I know I glossed over the putting on pajamas, but it's not really a problem with my kid, so you'll have to invent your own Step 4.5 for pajamas. Sorry. If you wanted actual advice you'd probably be reading someone else's blog.
Step 5: Books! Books! Books!
It's never one book. Sometimes it's two books. When it is less than five books I'm a freaking Storyteller with a capital S. They should invite me to the library. I have voices and accents and I point to the words to have Duchess help me spell them. We examine the pictures and talk about what's going on in them. On the long nights, when we read around books 5-7, and I know this is horrible of me to do, I burn out and just make shit up.
"Once upon a time there was this guy… and he looks like ran down a hill, and oh look! He had a friend." Then I start turning more than one page at a time. "The friends walked down another hill. Then there was another guy. He had a green hat. And the bird said 'Hi green hat guy,' and then they turned the page, and THE END."
I know I shouldn't skimp. I know I should give 100% effort on every book. But I'm tired. And while I love this time with my daughter, the longer I spend putting her to bed, the less alone time I have with my wife – which is already about 45 minutes a night before we both fall asleep. So if I want to change the story of Winnie the Pooh to a six page flash fiction piece about animals who repetitively say hi to each other, I'm going to do it damn it! Because you know what? This isn't even the last step! We still have…
Step 6: Singing
I may skimp on book time if it goes long, but I love me some lullabies! I don't go for too many of the traditional "Hush Little Baby" style lullabies. My lullaby jukebox is stacked with classics. My bedtime radio show would be called DJ Daddy's Soothing Sounds of the Sixties and Seventies.
I'll usually start off with a little Leonard Cohen "Hallelujah" and then move into something a little more upbeat. Maybe a little Freddy Mercury or Elton John. Show tunes will work their way into the playlist once in a while. I do a killer rendition of "Somewhere over the Rainbow", and you should hear Duchess sing along with "Summer Time" from Porgy and Bess. I'll usually end with "Black Bird" by The Beatles' Paul McCartney. It's my favorite.
I'll be honest. I love the singing part. She looks at me like I am the greatest singer in the whole world, and I eat it up. If Duchess is the one that makes book time go long, I'm equally guilty for taking Johnapalooza into a fourth and fifth encore. I'm the Eddie Vedder of bedtime.
Step 7: Goodnight
This is the scariest part, because it is either going to fail miserably and spiral into screams and tears and hurt feelings and all the things I've worked the last 30-90 minutes to avoid, or it is going to be the cutest and most wonderful sixty seconds of my day. I will spare describing the consequences of a poor exit to you in detail. Just know that it is ugly.
When I get a feeling that Duchess is tired enough, her eyes are a little droopy, and she isn't singing along as much as she was a few songs before, I'll cautiously say something like "OK honey…" and then let it trail off. If she doesn't flip out at that, I'll add a few more words. "OK honey…daddy is going to go n'night." And, when it works, the rest is one of the best parts of being a dad. I'm going to tip-toe out of this post now and just leave you with the dialogue.
"Can I have a hug daddy?"
"Can I have a kiss daddy?"
"Yes you can."
"I love you daddy."
"I love you too honey. You're my best friend."
"You’re my best friend too."
Love, Dad (John)
P.S. We have a huge reader compiled list of contemporary bedtime songs over on the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page. Click here to read them.
An earlier version of this piece appeared on John Kinnear's parenting blog, Ask Your Dad.