One thing that many parents struggle with is getting our precious, tired children to bed at night – and then to sleep! I know that this is something that our family struggled with for a long time. In fact, I’ve been known to say that I wasn’t sure that I could make it through another bedtime. But, after much research, contemplation, and trial and error, we have hit on a bedtime routine that has worked for us for nearly the past four years now. So, in the spirit of keeping others from struggling if I can help it, I thought I’d share what worked for us!
1. CONSISTENCY: The biggest key to good sleep, and not having sleep issues – for people of any age – is consistency. Go to bed and get up at approximately the same time every day – even if you have no other reason to get up at the same time. With consistency, your body will simply start to wake up and be tired at these same times every day without any outside prompting. Also, especially for children or those learning to break bad sleep habits, the actual routine of getting ready for bed time is important. So, as you read the steps to our bedtime routine that follow, remember that the VERY FIRST STEP is to be consistent!
2. Pick a Bed Time: Picking a bedtime is not an arbitrary thing. All children are not tired and ready for bed at 7:00 PM. Likewise, a bedtime of 11:00 PM doesn’t work for every family. Picking the time for bed is something that has to be individually considered for each family so that it meets the needs of all of the family members. For our family, we have 2 early risers – Sofi and Papa. It takes quite a bit of work to keep them sleeping past 7 am. The boys and I are very flexible about what time we wake up in the morning. We are happy to be up early, or happy to sleep late. We also have to be mindful of Papa’s school schedule and work commitment. So, it works best for our family to have kids sleeping early and for all of us to be up early in the morning so that we are ready to go to bed again at bedtime. We typically start our bedtime routine at 7:15 PM, knowing that it takes about an hour to make the transition from awake to asleep.
3. Have a Marker for Bedtime: Something should signal to the kids that it is time to start getting ready for bed. Dinner ending, the dishes being washed, or some other event that they can predict will happen nightly. We usually use an alarm set on our cell phones. When the alarm goes off, they know that it is time to have snacks. Or lately, we have been walking the dog after dinner, and we know that when we get home from this, it is time for bed.
4. Snacks: The first step in our routine is snack time. Every night we have some type of snack. The kids are allowed to pick, mostly, what they’d like. We limit sugar late in the day, so they know that sugary snacks will be vetoed. They typically pick fruit or a peanut butter sandwich.
5. Go Upstairs: This seems trivial, but it is a HUGE step in the bedtime routine. Going upstairs is the signal that the play for the day is over and the time for sleeping is nigh. Once the children go upstairs, they do not go back downstairs unless there are some pretty special circumstances. This is more important if you have a child who pops back up out of bed over and over again. If you don’t have an upstairs, going to the bedroom could be the same step. Whatever the physical location, the children should understand that this is a point of no return. **As a side note, we do not have an upstairs at the camper, but this was a HUGE step for us when we were living in a house. So, I included it because it really did make all of the difference for us.
6. Pick out and put on Jammies: I keep appropriate pajamas clean and stocked in the drawer. The kids get to pick out which ones they want to wear each night. Then, we work together to put them on.
7. Go Potty, Have a Drink, Brush Teeth, Brush Hair: We always go potty right after jammies because we have found that even if the kids say they don’t need to go potty, a half full bladder will keep them from being able to fall asleep, and getting up to go potty after they have laid down leads to the wigglies starting all over again.
8. Hugs and Kisses and then LAY DOWN!: We typically have 2 different variations of our bedtime routine, and the camper has brought on a third. In the first variation, we are all ready for bed and we have hugs and kisses and the kids get in their beds. Daddy or I sit in the chair in the room with them. In the second variation, we all get into “the big bed” and snuggle to sleep. Daddy comes and carries the kids to their own beds later. At the camper, we have begun by snuggling in my bed and then the kids go get in their bed after the next step, and fall asleep while Daddy does his school work at the table behind their bunks. At any rate, the laying down NOW really helps the transition to sleep and is another big key to the success that we’ve finally met with.
9. Story time: With the children laying down in bed, we read stories. The kids and I typically have a chapter book that we are working on, while Daddy typically prefers to let them pick out a book each from their shorter books, if he is doing bedtime. Either way, there are a few keys to this step that make bedtime easier. First, the laying down for the books. When laying down for the story, the child is already relaxing his or her body while they listen to the story. This means that they are already on the way to sleep. The second key is that the book should have a story line that their mind can follow, instead of short choppy lines full of facts and figures. The story allows the mind to focus and follow along, eventually drifting off into imagination. This helps the mind to release the other “chatter” of the day, and relax. Think of it as a guided mediation for children.
10. Ending and Going to Sleep: When the story is done, a consistent ending to the routine is good. This helps the child to know that it is time to go to sleep. Saying prayers, singing a specific bedtime song, blowing out a candle (some people like to light a candle around the “Going Upstairs” step in the routine), or just having a hug and a kiss and saying goodnight are all good endings. Do not encourage the child to sit up or use their bodies as part of the ending, or you will undo all of the relaxing work that has been done so far. The ending should be a low key affair that is very brief. And then allow the child to simply fall asleep. One thing that we have found that makes a huge difference for our family is supporting our children into sleep. Sofi is old enough now that she is no longer concerned about going to sleep on her own, and will actually often leave the big bed at home for the comfort of her own, uncrowded bed. Walter, on the other hand, is still young enough that he is afraid of being without a parent while he goes to sleep. So, we either snuggle in the big bed or sit in the chair in the kids’ room while the kids go to sleep. Before we had a baby again, I would sit and knit while they went to sleep. One key here is doing something quiet and rhythmic. Papa likes to do his school work while the kids go to bed, and the kids were dragging bedtime out on him for a long time. One night I was lying down in the next room while they were doing bedtime and realized that the sporadic clicking of the computer keys typing was keeping them awake. Little things like this can make a huge difference! I’ve often found that if I am knitting or reading next to them, they will be asleep before I can finish the first page of my reading or the first row of my knitting! Now, with the baby, I tend to read, check email on my phone, or play games on my phone while I nurse him to sleep and the kids drift off nearby.
I hope this outline helps some of you out there struggling with your own bedtime issues! I’ve said before that I would change every diaper ever created if I never had to do bedtime again. This routine has made it nearly painless, though.
What do you do differently for bedtime?