No Screen Time? No Bedtime? No Way!
Joyfully Embracing Whole-Life Unschooling
Yes way, actually. We'll just take it as read that casting snap judgements on people's parenting is pretty poor form, and get right to the heart of the matter.
No, my children do not have bedtimes. No, I do not set limits on how much TV they watch or time they spend on the computer based on what I think is good for them. And so, therefore, they are up till 2am watching cartoons and playing Minecraft, right?
The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we've enjoyed a glorious few hours in the garden. It got a little too hot, so we came inside and had lunch. (Incidentally, there are no food restrictions either, and they chose egg - some had poached, some scrambled - and toast, and some fruit. Yep.)
Now, my 9 year old is on the computer this afternoon, I'm not going to lie. She's watching a YouTube tutorial on how to make a ballgown for a doll from carrier bags. The 7 and 5 year olds are upstairs, playing with Happyland. (For those of you who have never had the pleasure of standing on any of it, it's a bit like the Fisher Price "Little People" sets.) They have, over the years, amassed quite a collection, and have the whole lot set out as a village. My nearly 2 year old is playing the random-item-distribution game she enjoys so much. I'm not totally sure if it's the distributing she actually enjoys, or the end result - getting to watch us hunting for the TV remote, dog lead, phone charger, house keys...our sanity...
The TV is off. It has been off since shortly after breakfast. This is their choice, and that's exactly why it's off. They have other things to do, so many varied options in our creative, chaotic space. All options of equal merit, in my eyes. If they're enjoying doing it, they're getting something from it, and therefore it's worth doing. They know that if they choose to switch on and watch CBeebies, I won't view it any differently from choosing to watch a documentary on climate change, or choosing instead to create a prodigious masterpiece, make mud pies, or plan and plant our entire vegetable patch unaided. Just as I don't judge what my partner chooses to do with his time, I don't judge my children either.
This lack of restriction, of judgement, and crucially of an imbalance of power, affords my children the freedom to genuinely choose what they wish to do with their time. And children who have less pressure in their lives are, as a result, less stressed and more able to achieve their full potential. (They usually bicker less too! Bonus!) It's really not that mad an idea - we trust our babies and toddlers to learn the basics of being a human, why not trust them to do what they need in order to become their own human?
Bedtimes are much the same issue. A newborn baby sleeps when it needs. At some point our culture decided that, somewhere between 6 months and 3 years, they lose this ability and need us to set them naptimes and bedtimes.
Any idea why? No? Me either. We home educate, and so I don't have the need to get them up and out of the house every day by a certain time. However, if I did, I still wouldn't enforce a bedtime. Children do need a certain amount of good quality sleep, and when left to their own devices, will allow it to happen. It stands to reason that an early rising will lead to tiring earlier. Rather than setting a time of the evening that we feel they will need to go to bed, we encourage our children to read their bodies' signals, and we partner them in creating a suitable environment to follow those cues.
As babies it's pretty simple (usually, not including medical issues, allergies, illness etc) - a fresh nappy, a cuddle, and a feed. Toddlers can be more tricky, unsurprisingly. Miss the early cues and you're into grumpy-stampy-land, a destination from which there aren't a lot of roads back. It's still not too hard when you get down to it though. For some, a favourite book is the invitation to sit quietly and drift off; for others it's a song, a feed, or a particular blanket.
Once you hit the age of language and reason, you're on the home stretch. You can talk about tired cues, and the body's need for sleep. (Obviously, that's still best discussed well away from when they're actually tired!) But once you spot those cues, both the common ones such as eye rubbing and yawning, and the ones particular to the individual (one of mine holds her ear, another strokes soft furnishings) - you can gently bring their attention to those things, and remind them what they mean. Then you can help them create a sleep environment. Again, by removing the stress and the imbalance of power surrounding the situation, the child can take control of their own needs, without fear of emotional repercussions. No, it isn't easy, especially at the end of one of those days. But then parenting never is.
One day though, it'll all be worth it; when they're grown into adults who are capable of just going to bed when tired instead of staying up till 1am checking Facebook and playing "Let's Farm."
That's my hope, at least. The prognosis is pretty good - my 5 year old is already much better at it than me.