Parents are experts at multi-tasking. You’re a whiz at putting together tacos while pulling soccer pants out of the dryer. You know how to pack lunches and get the kids out the door with three minutes to spare before the school bus arrives. You don’t flinch when you hear it’s your turn to have two dozen cupcakes ready by two o’clock this afternoon. But when it comes to a smooth and peaceful bedtime routine, you may feel there isn’t any more gas in the tank. You just want them in bed and asleep so you can collapse on the couch for a bit before your own bedtime.
Children of all ages can make bedtime a bit of a nightmare. First of all, they’re tired after a long day and not very conducive to reason. In addition, they easily learn this is a vulnerable time for parents if the routine is not yet well-established because you’re tired too. Bedtime is an opportunity to push buttons and ask for more and stretch those boundaries all the way to the wall. Some parents come to dread the nightly battles known as bedtime.
But never fear, you can change that. What would the perfect bedtime routine look like in your ideal world? There is no one “right” scenario, but here are some guidelines that may help you get back on track to make bedtime enjoyable for both you and your kiddos. It’s as easy as A B C.
To reach success you need a clear, measurable goal. You need to have an accurate picture in your mind of your chosen bedtime routine. And using the word routine implies you’ll go through the same procedures and activities each evening. Your goal at the end of these activities is a contented, cooperative child, relaxed and in bed, ready to drift off to sleep with no drama.
At its best, bedtime is a time for bonding — a time to close out the day together and get ready for a new one. And studies show that children who have enjoyed consistent bedtime routines have better sleep quality all through childhood.
Children learn a measure of self-care even though you, the parents are key to implementation. A bedtime routine is calming and can help to improve stress levels and promote better behavior.
What needs to happen before bedtime and what do you want to add as positive interactions with your children before they sleep?
It makes sense to begin preparing for bedtime at least an hour earlier when you turn off all devices and move toward quieter activities.
Bedtime routines usually include most of the following:
- A snack or feeding
- A bath
- Brushing teeth and using the bathroom
- A quiet activity such as reading a book or singing a song together while
- Cuddling or rocking
- A short talk about the day
- Goodnight kiss and lights out
You can feel free to tailor the routine to your family favorites if you don’t extend the routine beyond thirty to forty minutes. Some children enjoy playing in the bath for quite a while and others love to hear three or four stories before sleep. Be sure you’re the one setting the timeline and don’t allow power plays to put off time to sleep.
Address any fears or insecurities by leaving on a nightlight or hall light, keeping the door open, or reminding the children you’re nearby, but this is time to sleep. Offer a comfort item such as a favorite stuffed animal or a favorite blanket.
Following the same routine in the same order each night is the key to a successful bedtime routine and is the biggest challenge in our heavily-scheduled lives. Ideally bedtime routines are done every night of the week. And when the routine is broken by vacations, illness or any other break in the schedule, you’ll need to re-instate the routine and be especially mindful of sticking to the guidelines.
It’s best for both parents to take part in the bedtime routine, but when that’s not possible, try to follow the same routine no matter who is doing it. And for those children who always want one more drink and one more story, cut through the efforts to sabotage your plan by allowing them to make choices.
“Which pajamas do you want to wear, the red or the blue?” or “Which story shall we read tonight, the fairy tale or the book about spiders?”
You will adapt your bedtime routines and times as your children get older. They’ll take more responsibility for each step and go to bed a bit later in the evening. But even adults benefit from bedtime routines, so keep them in place for your children to ensure peaceful, no-hassle bedtimes.
Bedtime should be enjoyable for both parent and child. It’s a time to share your love and prepare for a healthy night of sleep. It takes time, effort and persistence to create a healthy bedtime routine, but the benefits are well worth your effort.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is a retired teacher and reading specialist who specializes in education, family life and parenting articles. Find Jan at janpierce.net.