The daily choreography of dressing, feeding, teaching, and transporting our kids is daunting, and often leaves precious few moments for truly enjoying them. When you think about how much time we spend stressed out with our young kids, you can't help wondering how many more meaningful moments we could capture from each long, hard day if we could only decompress some of those stressful minutes. Well, you can! Let's start with one of the toughest challenges: bedtime.
Perhaps no period of the day is more stressful for parents than the minutes leading up to bedtime; they can be chaotic and tense. The kids are bouncing off the walls, hyperkinetic from a full day of action, impossible to calm down. You're exhausted and need the kids in bed, asleep, to regain your mojo (or to go to bed yourself!). But they need one more glass of water or one more story. They suddenly remember the homework they forgot to do, the friend they forgot to text, or that their favorite team is on TV tonight ("please, mom, just one more minute!"). The night-light isn't bright enough, the hallway is too noisy, the closet is scarier than usual. Kids are at their imaginative best when finding ways to delay or disrupt bedtime.
There is lots of advice out there addressing the best ways to calm and quiet the kids before tucking them in. As spring nears, with warmer weather and longer daylight on the way, one of my favorite techniques is a pre-bedtime pajama walk. Not only does it give kids gentle, tranquil moments when they can decompress from their hyper after-dinner activities, but it also gives parents special moments with their kids that otherwise might have been lost to TV, social media, and video games. Or, worse—these moments might have been wasted yelling and screaming at each other. The key to pajama walks is the pajamas. First, get the kids completely ready for bed: teeth brushed, faces washed, pajamas on. Then take their hands for a walk, or put them in their stroller, on their tricycle, or on their two-wheeler, and meander slowly around the neighborhood. No snacks en route (their teeth are already brushed!); don't kick a soccer ball along the way or bring baseball mitts; postpone animated conversations until tomorrow. These are the mellow moments.
I've given a lot of thought to why pajama walks work so well—and they do work well! It's because kids understand the concept of "going someplace." They go to Grandma's house, to the store, to preschool or school, to the park. But "bed" isn't "someplace," and kids don't get the idea of going to bed, so they don't -- they dawdle and fuss and resist. The beauty of pajama walks is that kids are going someplace, so they (and you) can bypass the drama of bedtime inertia. It may take a couple of laps around the block, but by the time you return home with your kids, they will be in a fresh-air trance and ready for a bedtime story; they may even fall asleep on the way and just need your tender transfer into the house and under the covers.
And now it's time to find your mojo again.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).