“The things we know and believe are a part of us. We feel we have always known them. Almost anything else, anything that doesn’t fit into our structure of knowledge, our mental model of reality, is likely to seem strange, wild, fearful, dangerous and impossible. People defend what they are used to even when it is hurting them.” -John Holt
When I talk of not having bedtimes in our family, I receive many fearful comments. It’s hard to imagine what sleep can look like for children without force if you’ve never experienced it.
People wonder how kids will get enough sleep, what age kids are capable of making this decision, that children are running the house, and what about routine? All understandable concerns considering our society’s beliefs about children and their capabilities. But children are so very trustworthy, capable, and deserving of respect. So why let fear hold you back? Let them show you!
8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime…
1. No help getting to sleep
Having no bedtime does not mean kids are just totally left to their own devices! You still help your kids to sleep, if needed, it’s just that it’s not forced. There is no set time for bed that is determined by parents. When children are ready for sleep you help them in whatever way they require. Maybe lying with them, stroking their hair, or breastfeeding to sleep.
2. There’s no routine
One of the most common arguments for a set bedtime for kids is that ‘children need routine’. The thing is, if they need or want a routine, then why would you need to force it? Having no bedtime doesn’t mean no bedtime routine or predictable sleep times. You can still wind down together, have baths and read stories, etc. It’s just that sleep happens whenever each person decides. Just like adults do. Children can also become quite predictable with their sleep and waking times, it’s just that they are free to listen to their bodies and these times reflect their true needs.
3. Children are the boss
When you give children control over their lives, people assume that it means children become the boss of you. Not true! Everyone is the boss of their own body. Making a choice that suits you does not automatically mean infringing on the rights of others.
4. You don’t communicate your needs
What about when another’s sleep habits DO negatively affect others in the house? You talk about it! Not controlling sleep doesn’t mean you don’t get a say if someone is causing you to get less sleep than you need. You just don’t coerce the other person into doing things your way or force them to sleep on your schedule. Instead of declaring that it’s ‘not working’ and rushing in with rules and force, you problem solve together. You express your needs, you listen to theirs, and then you come up with a solution that you are both happy with. Of course, this depends on age. When you have a young baby you kind of just have to accept you’ll be getting less sleep for a while! But trust them, sleep when you can, and get support and eventually things will settle.
5. Children won’t get enough sleep
Whenever I talk about children not having a bedtime, there are many people who tell me how very important sleep is for children’s growth and development. I agree! Sleep is important for everyone. But, not having a bedtime does not mean that children won’t get enough sleep. In some cases they might not, the same as some kids with a bedtime might not get enough sleep either. But, in the absence of medical issues, there’s really no need to stress about a child not choosing to regularly sleep enough for their individual needs. There may be times when they choose less sleep, just as adults have things they want to stay up for at times even though they know they will feel tired the next day. But that’s ok! A few days of tiredness is not a health issue.
6. No giving advice about sleep
Having no forced bedtime does not mean you never give any advice regarding sleep. If you have an early start in the morning you might let them know that an early night could be helpful. If they’re obviously tired you may discuss how their body is feeling with them. You might have conversations about listening to your body, how to relax for sleep, and the importance of rest. Not forcing bedtime does not mean not discussing sleep at all, it just means you’re not coercive about it. You support their learning about their needs, without an agenda.
7. It’s only for older children
There is no certain age where you can begin to trust children to decide on their own bedtime. Children are capable of listening to their bodies from birth! In fact, it doesn’t make much sense to control bedtime in the early years and then expect children to suddenly be able to manage on their own when they’ve never had that responsibility. That’s not to say you can’t start later if you want to make a change in your family. Just that it’s often a more rocky process as children adjust to the freedom and learn once again to listen to their bodies.
8. No time with your partner
This one is probably quite true in the early years. When you have a newborn, especially, evening time with your partner takes a back seat. When the baby is sleeping, you want to be sleeping too! As children grow, it’s easier to communicate your needs and figure out something everyone is happy with. But, respecting children’s autonomy means that everyone’s needs are equal. Forcing them to bed at a certain time every night to meet your needs would be infringing on their rights. Instead, open up a discussion! How can we live together in a way that respects everyone’s freedom, and meets everyone’s needs?
Removing bedtime might be scary and unfamiliar, but that’s no reason not to try. There are so many awesome reasons to ditch bedtime, and ultimately children deserve to be in control of their bodies.
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