Bedtime and Sleep, Meltdowns and Paradise!

Today, my son and I did something most families have never done–we picnicked on a log boom in the Pacific ocean. A dear family friend introduced us to his summer tradition and we are now hooked!

The only problem is that this adventure meant no nap time. :-(

For those of you who know me well, nap time (AND bedtime and sleep!) is sacred in our home. I don’t skip them lightly. Why? It’s simple.We are delightful people, but only when well rested. If you ask my son, what happens when he doesn’t get enough sleep, he will tell you, “We get grumpy and we use an unfriendly voice.” Myself included. ;-)

Handling temper tantrums is never fun, but handling temper tantrums well is crucial to boosting the joy in our parenting days. For those of you who have ever dealt with a grumpy child and would like to navigate those turbulent temper tantrum waters better, read how I dealt with one particular melt down in paradise. 

While I was excited for our boating adventure among the islands of the Northern West Coast Pacific, I found myself a little wary the closer we got to our accustomed nap time. And on cue, my little grumpy non-napping gremlin of a son emerges.

The melt down started just after we safely pulled up our boat to the log boom, and got set up under an arbutus covered cliff. It was then that the incessant complaining began. The view of the snow covered mountains, sparkling ocean, even curious seals, and eagles soaring over head is spectacular! All of this, of course, goes unnoticed by my sleepy preschooler who is on the verge of a complete temper tantrum meltdown simply because his body has had enough stimulus for one AM.

  • “Why is it SOOOO windy?”
  • “It’s cold!”
  • “I’m SOOOOO hungry.”

In reality, it’s a stunning 24 degrees (75 F), with a light breeze and for most adults (with a pulse) we are sitting in paradise. But this, is understandably, COMPLETELY LOST on my very tired three year old.

So now the interrupting begins. As I am emotionally prepared for this to start, I am ready to do my best to head off a complete temper tantrum melt down.

As a side note, I rarely have to deal with this level of meltdown. Many parents are quite stunned to find that we have extremely short melt down periods, and never a “witching hour” late in the evening as he is most often well in bed before this has a chance to start. I am convinced we deal with a fraction of the temper tantrums that I witness in most homes, as I have been so adamant about setting good sleep habits from the get go (everything from making certain his room is dark with black out curtains, to catching his ideal “sleep windows” and frankly, because we have made good sleep a family value).

Dr. Weissbluth, my favourite bedtime and sleep author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, shows overwhelming research to support the importance of developing healthy sleep habits so you can enjoy a fraction of the misbehaviours. But, in special times like log boom picnic days, temper tantrums can often not be helped. I will of course do my best.

“Tyler, can you control the wind?” I ask.


“What can we control?”

“Ourselves.” He is well versed in this concept, as we’ve talked about it many times before.

“That’s right. We can control whether we have a good time…or not. Now today is a special day, but because we are SO far from home it likely means that we won’t be able to have a really good nap. This is exactly why we have naps [I can't resist getting this mommy lesson in!] and you are, understandably, starting to use a grumpy voice. I’ve already been having so much fun with you, and would really like to enjoy our afternoon together too. So I would prefer if  you used your friendly voice. I bet, our friend wants to hear your friendly voice too.”

Our friend, being a Father himself and Grandpa, takes my cue and readily agrees.

“So if you are going to be grumpy I ask that you do it silently or just take a little rest cuddling quietly here with Mommy. Of course, if you would like to use a friendly voice we would love to have you be part of the conversation.”

To his credit, he, for the most part, complies and after some good food in his tummy (always an important thing), a refreshing feet dip in the Pacific ocean and the chance to drive the boat back home he gets his Mojo back and we are in the groove again.

Yet, as a seasoned mother, I know we are not yet out of the temper tantrum/meltdown waters yet. Just because he’s gotten a second wind and is his charming self once again, doesn’t mean that he is less tired. In fact, it means that he is even MORE tired, which often makes it (once they dip into their adrenalin stores) even more difficult later on to get them sleeping (or to STAY sleeping).

By the time we get home, we are over 8 hours on the water, he’s been up since 5AM, has fished for the first time, hiked for him what must seem like mountains, played “Captain Tyler” and is still awake feeding off his adrenalin reserves.

By the time, the temper tantrum melt down, which is just before bedtime, occurs I am ready. First, he just doesn’t clear his dinner dishes (something he does every day).

But, as I’ve recently reminded myself of my own cardinal parenting rule, ‘Say it only one and then follow up with respectful action (or else you teach your kids to not listen to you),‘ I choose not to nag, instead here’s what I said:

“Tyler I need you to clear your dinner dishes quickly so we can have time for a bath. If I need to remind you again, we’ll skip bathtime tonight and go right to bedtime.”

Of course, you guessed it, he forgot. So when I followed through kindly, he had an award winning tantrum that included throwing things. Here’s what I did:

“I can see you are sad.”


“Yes you really wanted a bath.”


“I wanted to as well, but now we get to do it tomorrow. How about I help you get into your P.J.’s so we have time for stories and songs.”

He wasn’t ready to let go yet.

“It looks like you still need some time to cry. Would you like a hug?”

“NOOOO!” He’s obviously not ready yet.

“Just want to let you know that if the crying takes too long we won’t have time for stories and bedtime songs either. Let me know when you are ready.”

“DON’T LEAVE!!!” He clings to me as if I’m his life preserver.

“Are you ready for a hug now?”

He nods.

So we cuddle and finally, he calms down. We begin bedtime stories and I sing a new song that I made up on the fly (must be the salt air!). Here’s the chorus:

“Tyler, Tyler I love you.
May I tell you all what I appreciate about you.
I loved watching you fish today and seeing you shout out hurray!
It was fun to drive the boat, as a team to help us float.
I love you and you love me, I’m so happy as can be.”

Then the zzzz’s finally happen. My child sleep and bedtime guru, Dr. Weissbluth states: “One missed nap, is a nap missed forever.” So tomorrow, I intentionally plan to do less and bump up our nap and evening sleep schedule, so we can get back on our bedtime and sleep track ASAP. Again, we are very friendly people, but only when we have enough zzzzzz’s. ;-)


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