Sleep and the Lawnmower Parent

Child jumps on bed, won't sleep

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In Lawnmower Parents Don’t Hover, They Mow, we described the way that lawnmower parents run interference during daytime, removing obstacles and challenges from a child’s path. But lawnmower parents are also active at night, which can turn their children into poor sleepers!  Here are some of the ways that lawnmower parenting might be a problem at bedtime.

Three Basic Bedtime Mistakes

Lawnmower parents tend to make three basic mistakes at bedtime:

  1. Lawnmower parents attempt to turn the child’s bedroom into a perfect sleep environment. They do this by adding sound machines that play the sounds of relaxing ocean waves or rainfall to a child’s bedside table; or they set up essential oil diffusers to waft the scent of lavender through the night air. They might install special light bulbs in their child’s room that block the “blue light” part of the spectrum and cast only a warm, amber glow. Some parents add starlight projectors that make constellations dance on the bedroom ceiling.

Perhaps they play meditation tapes or soothing music as their little ones are drifting off. Some leave the television or a video on each night and turn these off later on, once the child is asleep. They might even try to block every sliver of light from entering the bedroom or install blackout curtains on the windows. Lawnmower parents add all of these things because they think that the bedroom will then be very conducive to sleep. They add them with the hope that their child will then be a wonderful sleeper.

Too Many Sleep Aids

While there is not much of an issue with adding one or two of these items to a child’s bedroom, adding too many of them can definitely lead to sleep problems. A child can become accustomed to having these “sleep aids” available every night, and this can make it hard for a child to sleep anywhere else, without them. It’s almost like building the perfect greenhouse for a special flower. The flower may flourish in that greenhouse, but may do poorly anywhere else.

If their child goes to her best friend’s home for a sleepover, her friend’s home will almost never have these things (and will certainly not have all of them). And, if the child goes to Nana’s house for the weekend, her house almost surely won’t have these items. Summer camp won’t, either. Even luxurious hotels won’t have all of these niceties, so lawnmower parents may find themselves trying to pack up all of these items to bring along on family trips. Most parents, once they consider these drawbacks and inconveniences, would agree that it’s best to help a child learn to sleep in a simple, basic bedroom.

Simple Basic Bedroom

What is in the simple, basic bedroom? Bedrooms should have no electronics at all and this includes TVs, video game players, tablets, and cell phones. If parents are unwilling to remove these completely, they should at least remove remote controls, game controllers and DVDs at bedtime. And from the time a child is first given a cell phone, it is wise to have a “house rule” that this is left to charge overnight somewhere outside of the bedroom.

Bedrooms should have a night light along with a reading light somewhere near the bed along with a basket with some books, drawing pads, and coloring books for older children who need a few minutes to relax and get drowsy enough to fall asleep.

2. Lawnmower parents often stay nearby at bedtime to help their children relax into sleep. Once this job is done, and the children are asleep, parents usually leave the child’s bedroom to finish up their own evening activities or to go to bed themselves. All children, however, wake several times a night and, when they awaken and find their parents “missing,” may need to “find” the parent again in order to get back to sleep.

Even children who co-sleep with a parent might awaken if the parent moves a little “too far away” during the night! The practice of being nearby when a child falls asleep can also lead to bedtime routines that last a long time because children will stay on guard at bedtime to make sure their parents don’t leave before they, the children, are deeply asleep. This can also lead to more frequent nighttime awakenings which require parental help to get the child back to sleep.

lawnmower parents take their children into bed to sleep with them

Lawnmower parents who have fallen into this pattern may want to gradually taper off their presence in the child’s bedroom at bedtime, perhaps by sitting in the doorway and reading until the child is asleep rather than lying in bed with the child. Once the child can fall asleep easily with a parent in the doorway, the parent can usually leave the room entirely at the end of the bedtime routine.

3. Lawnmower parents often respond to all of the child’s extra requests even after the bedtime routine is meant to be over. They do this with the hope that, once the child has everything he or she requests (another cup of warm milk, a different stuffed animal, a special blanket tuck, just one more backrub), he or she will finally fall asleep. This is, however, almost never the case. In reality, of course, responding to all of these callbacks night after night at bedtime actually encourages more and more such requests. Parents end up rewarding the child (unintentionally, of course) for staying awake!

Other children may make “curtain calls,” leaving the bedroom after the bedtime routine is over, suddenly appearing once more before their parents, who may inadvertently reward this behavior, too, by letting children curl up with them on the sofa until they “get sleepy.” This, again, usually leads to extended bedtime routines that can take an hour or two to run to completion.

Getting Kids to Sleep

Bedtime tickets are a quick and easy way to manage the callbacks and curtain calls that most kids like to make after the bedtime routine is over. A bedtime tickets is a small card good for one more callback or curtain call. Parents can make simple bedtime tickets by decorating index cards with their child during the day.

Parents should also ensure that the bedtime routine addresses all of the child’s usual needs: a final bathroom trip; a cup of water on the bedside table; a favorite stuffed animal retrieved from behind the sofa and brought back to the bed. The bedtime routine can be concluded with some cozy reading time followed by a final hug and kiss.

Once the bedtime routine is over, parents can give the child one or two bedtime tickets along with a reminder that the child can trade one ticket each for any further requests occurring after lights out. These callback requests should take only a minute or two to grant (in other words, bedtime tickets can’t be redeemed to hear another bedtime story or, as one child requested, to order a pizza!). If the child calls the parents back to the bedroom, the parent should ask for a ticket and quickly grant the request.

Curtain Calls

If the child makes a curtain call outside the bedroom, the parent should ask to see one bedtime ticket and then walk the child back to the bedroom for another tuck into bed. If the child makes more than two curtain calls, the child should be walked back to the door of the bedroom only and once there, should be asked to get back into bed on his or her own steam.

To make sure that the child doesn’t hold onto the bedtime tickets for an hour or more and only then make a request, parents should explain that the tickets expire within ten minutes and unused ones can be traded for a small reward in the morning.

In summary, most parents (even lawnmower parents!) want their children to be great sleepers. They want them to sleep well wherever they are so they can participate in all of the fun, age-appropriate activities that come their child’s way. That would include, for example, summer camp, sleepovers, and school trips.

Lawnmower parents, like all parents, mean well. it’s simply a case of doing the wrong things with the right intentions. All parents want their children to fall asleep quickly and independently at bedtime, and stay in bed all night long. Which is why it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider: how much  “help” is too much, when it comes to a child’s bedtime routine.

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Author: Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein is a mother of 12, communications writer, and education blogger at the Kars4Kids blog.

One thought on “Sleep and the Lawnmower Parent”

  1. another great post – and nice to read some actual advice on a topic so many parents can use help with 🙂

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