Bedtime can be a last bright spot in the day you and your children share. It can also be the final hurdle between parenting time and personal time for adults and a difficult goodbye for little ones. Figuring out a routine that honors everyone’s needs at the end of the day can help make this an anticipated moment in the day and can ease the the way to dreamland.
- Bath time can come before dinner. We did this more with our youngest child who was ready for sleep well before 6 many days until after she was five years old. It meant right after dinner, we could brush teeth and have a story and send her off to bed.
- Try an even earlier bedtime if your child is not going to sleep. Not every family will have the schedule to allow for this, but I like to mention it just in case. Our toddlers slept from about 5:30 pm until 7 am most nights. The youngest child even occasionally was in bed asleep before 5. While it cut into the time she got to spend with Daddy, it made that time much more fun for both of them.
- Know how many books you are willing to read. With getting three kids off to bed with staggered bedtimes, each child mostly only got one book for their bedtime. There were exceptions, of course, but we were careful that we established a book routine we could keep most of the time.
- Be familiar with your books so you can choose stories based on length. Elsa Beskow stories are a fine example for this point. Peter’s Old House is a 10-15 minute read, which was our average bedtime story. However, many of her books, like Children of the Forest, can take half an hour or more to read. We saved these for older children or for times when we knew a child needed longer to wind down.
- Some of the best bedtime books will b repetitive. The repetition has a lulling effect ad parent and child. Our favorites were Seven Little Rabbits by Barbara Cooney, Going to Sleep on the Farm by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, and Whoever You Are by Mem Fox.
- Be aware of your child and whether making choices at the end of the day will be a trigger for conflict. Some nights, a child will show up with their book in hand, but it’s fine for a parent to pick the story. As a culture, we ask children to make so many choices throughout the day that that muscle might be tired at day’s end. Let them choose if they are willing and able, but be prepared with some favorites when you know they might need you to pick.
- Know a few nursery rhymes, songs, and/or poems. These rhythmic words you can recite after the lights are off can be a final nudge toward relaxing into sleep. They can also help a tired parent feeling like they have reached the end of their sleepy time tricks. Treat yourself to poems you like so that memorizing them is easier.
- The closer you can stick to a regular bedtime and routine, the easier it will be. However, don’t let the routine get in the way of responding to the changing needs of your child and family.