Many parents I work with find it difficult being apart from their little ones all day, only to be reunited with a tired, emotional child at 5 or 6pm. Some parents feel "resentful" or that they have "missed the best" of their child during the day, whether they've been at nursery or school.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your time together at the end of the day, before kicking off a calm bedtime routine:
I often find myself explaining to parents that this is positive, it is normal for children to store up big emotions throughout the day then have a "release" when they are reunited with their trusted loved one. You are their "safe place" to do so after all. Try to accept this as a positive and spend time to give the comfort and reassurance they need.
A quick handover is best if you want to maximise time with your little one but many parents worry about appearing rude to their carer. To get around this, agree a plan in advance with your childcare provider, perhaps a "handover book" detailing meals, activities and naps from that day would be helpful, or a whatsapp communication with any necessary handover details.
Even though you may feel this is the time for lots of exciting fun and games, your child is likely to be exhausted after a day in childcare or at school and may quickly become overtired (if they are not already). Ask yourself what does your child need? What are their actions telling you? Follow these 'tells'.
For younger children, if you feel a need to "reconnect" with your child, try some filial play as a calm activity - before starting the bedtime routine. This is a form of play therapy, extremely simple and a fantastic way to ensure your child feels really loved by you.
A box (an old shoebox will do) with toys / items specific to this activity (so toys that your child does not normally have access to such as Velcro rollers, shells, ribbons etc)
How to play
Remember a child who seemingly has an increased amount of energy at the end of the day is, in fact, overtired (the adrenaline is running around the body in response to tiredness).
If your child is in desperate need of sleep, activate what I call "Rapid Induction Bedtime"! Simply go through each distinct step of your routine as quickly as you reasonably can (the familiarity will provide reassurance and will go some way to calming down your child), moving to the bedroom with low lights for a calm story and song before saying good night.
It is normal for an overtired child to take longer to settle to sleep, so don't be disheartened and do not try and change routines or your responses drastically - simply provide lots of gentle reassurance.
While you may be dying to know about their day, do try to avoid bombarding them with endless questions. If they are already tired, the feeling of being questioned is likely to make them feel anxious and stressed. To gently ask about their day, keep it brief and positive i.e. "what was the funniest thing that happened at school today?" or "what was your favourite thing about today?"
If you think that your child has a worry or anxiety, pre-bedtime is not the time to ask as this will impact on their sleep (and a lack of sleep can only worsen such anxieties). Instead, focus on helping your child to relax / distract them pre-bedtime with perhaps some yoga or mindfulness (see cosmic kids yoga on youtube or mindfulnessmonsters.co.uk).
The day time (if possible) or at weekends are better times to encourage your child to talk about what might be bothering them, when they feel safe and not hurried. Try some art therapy by scribbling some patterns with colouring pens and asking your child what the patterns mean. Alternatively, helping your child to write down their concern on paper and feeding this to a "worry monster" or creating an imaginary worry box where you both have the key to open together can be very effective ways of encouraging them to open up.
And finally, most importantly, while it's not always easy, do try to aim for a calm bedtime, ending the day on a happy note. It makes for a more relaxed household when you know your child has gone to bed feeling positive and loved.