The word “bedtime” is loaded for parents. It conjures up images of how it should be: stories, cuddles, kisses, and sweet sleepy children drifting off to sleep. “Bedtime” can also mean frustrating nights: barking orders, kids crying, and the sense that it may never end. After realizing our frustrating nights seemed to be far more frequent than our pleasant ones, I wondered if there was more that I could do to make things go smoothly. I studied our routine (or lack-of) and found what was working and what was not.
“I’m not tired!” and “I can’t sleep” were frequent laments after bedtime in our house. The lights were out, the kids were tucked in, but not for long. Little feet came padding down the stairs and my husband and I would sigh and start Round Two of bedtime. They say the best offense is a good defense; similarly, the best bedtime plan starts during the day. Think about how easy it is to fall asleep after a day of working hard or playing hard outside. That physical tiredness is key to a good night’s rest. The same is true for kids: active play, especially outside, helps them to be ready to meet the sandman at night, on time.
I admit it, sometimes bedtime was at 6:45 when the kids seemed exhausted. Other nights they’d manage to stretch it to 9:00. Sometimes, it’s just impossible with activities, homework, and chores to keep kids going to bed at the same time every night. However, having a consistent time to shoot for helps the kids and parents know what the plan is. Aim for consistency, not perfection.
We start our bedtime routine long before I expect the little ones to actually go to sleep. Sure, we could get it done in thirty minutes, but when we do, it is stressful and I end up sounding like an Army drill sergeant yelling for the kids to do their next task. Bedtime is better for everyone if we have realistic expectations.
When your kids share a room, bedtime can spiral out of control quickly. We’ve all sent the kids to get ready for bed only to find them an hour later, still dressed and playing. To solve the distraction issue, I decided to get one kid ready for bed at a time. Meanwhile, the other child is downstairs with my husband enjoying one-on-one time with him. When he’s not home I allow some much desired computer time with an educational game to keep the other sibling occupied. After one is ready, we switch. It seems like this method would take twice as long, but without the distraction of a sibling, the kids are better able to focus and get things done.
Plan to be Present
I used to get frustrated that my kids couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do a task alone that I knew they were capable of. Now I grab some laundry and fold it in their room while they are getting ready for bed. Since there is only one child in the room at a time, it’s a great opportunity for us to bond every night for a little bit while we both get our “jobs” done.
Make a Visible List
Make a simple list (with pictures for pre-readers) that reminds your child of the steps to getting ready for bed, in the order you’d prefer them to be done. Laminate it or put it in a sheet protector and hang it in your child’s room.
The oldest bedtime advice is still the best: reading is a great way to transition from bedtime tasks to a more restful connection before sleep.
Lights Out – Time for Questions
Each night after bedtime stories, I turn off the light and tuck the children into their beds, but they aren’t quite ready to drift off to sleep. Sitting in the quiet dark together brings out the deepest thoughts and questions of the day. Since I started planning this time into our routine, I’ve gotten questions from the kids about faith, death, and heaven and I’ve gotten silly questions like, “Did they have cars when you were a kid?” This is one of those magical times for connection, when the darkness allows for honest thoughts and worries to be shared.
Our bedtimes aren’t always perfect, but when I remember to follow these tips, they are much more fun.
Sara Simeral is the mother of five-year-old twins. She’s been trying to build a better bedtime since they were born.