Master Your Child's Bedtime RoutineFeb 14, 2017
Yesterday a dear friend asked my advice on managing her tired ten-year-old who gets “tanky” – tired and cranky. What to do with a tired child? This topic is so large I will initially divide it into four posts focussed on Sleep Hygiene: Bedtime Routines, Bedroom Environment, Bed Time, and Bedtime Sneakiness, with much more to come on sleep training after that. As a quick preface to bedtime routines, I must highlight that well-rested kids and parents are primed for success. When either party gets tired, parent-child interactions suffer. Sleep is incredibly important.
Now on to routines: I cannot stress the importance of Consistency (see The 5 C's to Amazing Parenting) in your child’s life enough. Children thrive on consistency and predictability; it helps them to navigate through all the changes they are experiencing physically and the new learning experiences they encounter daily. I will talk more about daily routines in future posts. Today we’ll focus on bedtime, arguably the most important part of those routines. Bedtime routines are not just for kids; they’re important for adults too, and are the first focus of our four-part psychology lesson on sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers not just to how clean you are for bed but how your entire sleep routine and environment are set up and whether they’re conducive to getting a good night’s sleep.
I think of the bedtime routine as everything that happens after dinner. After clearing plates and wiping up any crumbs that spilled on their spot at the table, my kids head straight to picking out their clothes for the next day, then off to bath or shower. After that, it’s time for pajamas, hair brushing, dental floss, and toothbrushing, then off to storytime. Usually, Dad reads because he has not spent as much time with them during the day, and I start tackling the dishes, so all the chores are done before that last child goes to bed, and we still have some time to ourselves in the evening. Each child gets to pick at least one story before bed, more if I got dinner on the table early enough and if bath time went smoothly. The number of books is made clear at the start of storytime to avoid any later negotiations, and the child with the earliest bedtime gets to pick first. After their story, that child says goodnight to their siblings, and Dad and I walk them back for “final potty” and tuck-in (which is a quick event) before Dad gets the next child’s story started. Then we repeat the process three more times before Mom and Dad go off-duty for the night.
It’s the same thing almost every night. The kids are almost always asleep within minutes of being tucked in. I love hearing babysitters say, “The kids went to bed so easily; it was a breeze.” And grandparents say they’re happy to watch the kids for date night because they’re so well-trained at bedtime. Having a reliable bedtime routine benefits you and your children. Your bedtime routine may be completely different than mine as long as it’s consistent and involves getting them into “calm and quiet” mode to be primed for sleep. Our routine has changed slightly over the years; for example, we used to read in their beds, but our three boys now share a room and have staggered bedtimes.
Of course, there will be some times when the routine is modified. For example, if we go swimming and shower earlier in the day, we skip the bath and go straight to pajamas. Or if we go out to dinner and service is slow, and we return home too late to fit in a bath without sacrificing storytime, as long as they’re not filthy, we’ll skip the bath. I let them know the plan on the drive home from the restaurant and remind them as we walk in the door, then off they go to get pajamas on quickly to have time for a story – unless we’re super late and that needs to be skipped too. The beauty of a reliable bedtime routine is that the kids can go with the flow for an odd night here and there because they are comforted by the knowledge that the routine will return the next day.
What does your family’s evening look like after dinner? How conducive are those activities with “calm and quiet” mode to get them primed for sleep? How consistent is your routine? In the last week, how many times did your bedtime routine vary? This week I encourage you to examine your family’s bedtime routine and see how you can tweak it to set you and your child up for a successful night’s sleep.