Putting your children to bed can be one of the most rewarding or infuriating parts of your day. If all goes well, you come downstairs with a smile on your face and gratefulness in your heart for these adorable munchkins. On the other hand, if all hell breaks loose during your bedtime routine, you collapse on the sofa exhausted and questioning what you were ever thinking having more than one child. When you have one sweet little baby, no one ever sits you down and tells you that adding one more child can feel like five. Or adding two can feel like ten. Add to this dynamic a tired mom, a worn-out dad, a sleepy baby, and a grumpy big sister…and you have the recipe for disaster.
We have our share of bedtime battle scars and have learned a few tricks that have helped us survive. Here are a few bedtime tips that have worked well:
1) Stagger Bedtimes.
If you attempt to put your young children to bed at the same time, they may well keep each other awake! Not always. But, often. One way to avoid your 6-year-old keeping your 4-year-old from falling asleep because he is singing to himself, is to simply put the 4-year-old down just a bit earlier. The older children love this idea, as they get to stay up longer and get some extra playtime. The younger kids adore it, because they get some one-on-one time with mom or dad. We don’t always stagger bedtimes, but we have found that it has a lot of benefits. There are some really special one-on-one bonding moments, snuggling next to your little one. It is more peaceful and deliberate. The child isn’t distracted by his sibling bouncing on the bed or throwing his rabbit across the room. And, more often than not…your younger child is asleep by the time the next sibling is brushing her teeth.
2) Offer Rewards.
We all know that incentives work! It is very easy with my 9-year-old, who can put herself to sleep…but still loves mom or dad to come snuggle, pray, scratch her back and read with her at bedtime. “Honey, after 7:30pm is my time to rest. I am happy to read, pray and snuggle with you if you are completely ready to go at 7:15pm. Teeth brushed, PJ’s on and in bed.” Her reward for getting herself ready for bed at 7:15pm is 15 minutes of time with mom. After that she can read in bed until her 8pm lights out, but has done all the hard bedtime prep work while she still had energy and while mom had energy.
With my 5 and 7-year-old it can be a bit more tricky. They love bedtime stories, so I will get out my 15 minute sand timer and say something like, “Guys, if you are able to brush your teeth, wash your hands and face, go potty and get your PJ’s on before this sands runs out…we will have two stories tonight.” If they don’t make it, they only get one story. Or no story. We usually read or tell a story, lie down next to our kids and pray with them at bedtime. If they follow instructions well during the bedtime routine, they get all three. If they do not follow instructions well…they may only get one of the three. No anger or yelling. We offer empathy if they dawdled too long and missed a privilege. “Bummer. That is too bad. It took so much time for you to brush your teeth, so tonight we will only snuggle and pray. Tomorrow let’s try hard to get everything done before the sand runs out.”
Offering playtime as an incentive really works well with any age. And…there is no rule that says you can’t start bedtime super early and give your child extra playtime once all is said and done. “Hey, sweetie…I am happy to give you 30 minutes of extra playtime in your bed if you get yourself ready for bed before the timer runs out.” That’s 30 extra minutes for you to read a book or clean the kitchen — you know, in an ideal world!
3) Make It Fun
Anytime you can make your bedtime routine into a game, you win! Kids between the ages of 3 and 8 can really get into this. With a 3-year-old you can pretend you are a Mama Bear carrying the Baby Bear on your back up to the cave (bathroom) where you find a magic medicine (toothpaste) that makes her teeth shiny and bright. And so forth and so on. With a 5-year-old you can sing a song for every part (brushing teeth, washing hands…etc) of the bedtime routine and see if she can get that task finished before you finish your song. Of course, she wins every time! With a 7-year-old you can play the counting game. “Okay, buddy…I don’t think you can go potty by the time I count to 50. Can you beat me?” That 7-year-old will most likely dash up the stairs yelling, “I’m gonna win!!” With an older child, you can throw in a fun bedtime bonus if they get done even earlier. “Hey, honey…I have a bit more time tonight. If you want to get all ready by 7pm…I’d love to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to you tonight, instead of you reading it on your own.”
These are just of few of the bedtime tips that have worked for us. I’d love to hear some of yours!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (12/14/2015) Yacine Petitprez (Flickr)