One of the simplest and most powerful things we can do for children (for anyone) is to listen to their feelings without reacting. It can be so hard to be present for feelings--our own or someone else's. It isn't comfortable. It hurts to see someone upset. It is tempting to respond mentally, trying to rescue, fix, explain, teach, or justify the situation, rather than staying with feelings. But if we can slow down enough to notice our discomfort before acting on it, we can see that fixing it isn't an option. Feelings can't be fixed, they can only be felt.
It is a radical act to be with a feeling rather than trying to fix it, one that goes against our training and against the norms of our culture. It takes courage to try. Once you try, you'll be hooked because it's so powerful.
Try it! When your child gets upset, see if you can listen deeply without doing anything. Say you child gets upset because you say it's time for bed. What if you listen to their upset with no judgment about whether they should feel that way, no logical explanation of why they need to get ready for bed, to argument, discussion, or explanation. Just listen. Maybe nod a bit.
Acknowledge their feeling in your own authentic way, "Wow, the idea of going to bed feels really bad," or "It seems like you're really mad about getting ready for bed," then listen some more.
Mirror back what they're saying if you can, "I get it, you always feel like it's time to get ready for bed just when you get excited about the game you're playing," or "It doesn't seem fair that you have to go to bed when your brother gets to stay up."
Expand on their feelings a bit. "I bet it would feel good if you could just stay up until you FEEL like going to bed!"
Take it slow, they may have a lot of feelings that need to get expressed. Sometimes the issue really is bedtime, sometimes it's stored up feelings from the day or weekend. If you allow the feelings to be expressed, even when they don't come out skillfully or kindly, those feelings will begin to dissolve naturally.
Stay clear, it really is time to get ready for bed, even when your child has big feelings about it. Empathy and caring does not mean we change our mind. We simply allow feelings to be expressed and gently remind our child of the limit. "It's so frustrating sometimes, isn't it, to have to get ready for bed when you want to play? I hear you! And still we need to go upstairs." If you are patient, consistent, and confident, your child will respond (sometimes there are big issues with connection, with timing, with trauma or pain that interfere, but if the relationship is pretty strong your child will respond).
No need to rush, simply stay clear and firm. To get into a power struggle is to lose! Simply restating, "It's time for bed," while staying caring and nurturing about the feelings can allow a lot of feelings to be released with loving support. Bedtime may not happen as quickly as you would like if you approach it this way, but it's probably going to happen more quickly than it would if you argued, pleaded, or threatened, and you will do it with much more dignity.
Give it a try! Please let me know how it goes.
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.