This magical, almost unworldly thing happens in my home around 7:30, when both my sons miraculously recover from their long days and their drooping eyes become beady and sparkle with mischief. A surge of energy then propels them everywhere around the house, except their beds!
The reality is that kids usually don’t want to go to bed, meaning you are going into battle. Your kids will run away from you while you try to corner them. In my case, my youngest will get naked and run around the house screaming with glee as I give chase―sound familiar? Bedtime can also involve tears, tantrums and frustrations on all sides. It’s normal and nothing to be ashamed of, but this chaos does explain the necessity for some kind of system.
The key to a good bedtime routine is consistency, but that doesn’t mean you do the same precise exact thing every night; I suggest a few activities you can alternate on a regular basis. What’s important is to follow similar pattern every night so your kids know what to expect; this will create a sense of security and help them relax and fall asleep more easily.
Whenever possible, I try to get a little exercise in after supper: a walk, bike ride or just some playtime outside so they tire themselves out. If the weather is bad, I play some music and we dance around the living room. In addition to being lots of fun, this is a great way to reduce stress in general―for both you and the kids.
Once your kids have had their fun, the next stage is to get them to wind down naturally so they allow their minds to recognize their bodies are tired and need rest.
A warm bath for each of my kids has never failed me yet. It provides a soothing experience and is a great way to ease most children into bedtime. A little after-bath lotion with lavender also usually favours sleep and the kids will enjoy getting a nice back rub.
The bedtime routine should always include clean teeth! It goes without saying that the earlier your kids start to brush their teeth, the better. To encourage younger children, go for colourful themed toothbrushes and pastes; you’ll save yourself a whole lot of hassle.
Changing the boys into comfy pyjamas is a good way to mark the transition toward bedtime, although my youngest will fight me on this. I usually try to negotiate by offering him a choice of two pyjamas so that he can exercise some of his emergent independence.
This is the best part of the routine for me. I pick a couple of books that are age-appropriate for my youngest, dim the lights in the room to create a soothing ambiance, and snuggle up close to both boys so we can read together. My oldest will usually read every other page, we give different voices to characters and just genuinely enjoy the moment.
Remember that story time is amazing for literacy development; I can’t stress enough the importance of introducing a love of reading to our children. It’s so easy, has lifetime benefits and contributes to language skills and school success.
After story time, I will usually send my oldest to his room where he can enjoy a quiet activity for a few minutes while I snuggle with my toddler. Lots of hugs are a must, and if he is still a little hyper I will sing a few lullabies. I then repeat with my oldest, and replace the lullaby with a small chat. Sometimes he has insecurities or questions and this is good time to put his mind to rest so he can feel safe and secure before lights out.
There are other great ideas you can add to your routine: some time in the rocking chair, board games, diming the lights around the house or closing the curtains, and so forth. You can also make some posters with charts illustrating the different stages of your bedtime routine. Every time your kids complete a task, they can put something on the poster to show it’s done, like a card to stick with Velcro. You can easily find these in stores or keep it as an arts and crafts activity for the kids on a rainy day.
The trick is to find a routine that works for you and your kids and to stick to it. And remember not to rush things, I know we’re all tired after a long day’s work and crave some “me” time, but doing the routine right will allow your kids to feel secure and will make falling asleep easier.