The year has started, the kids have been back at school for a few weeks…how are your daily routines going? In my home, the morning routine usually ends up being a mad dash (even when I have prepared and planned and gotten up early!) But what about your bedtime routine? How often are your children in bed at the same time each evening, have you given any thought to this routine or do you simply follow what your parents did with you?
The end of the day can be taxing for everyone. After a full day of school, work, extra murals, homework, and playtime there is often limited energy, patience, willingness and enthusiasm for a prolonged bedtime run. It may be helpful to remember that this may be the perfect time to create some moments to connect, build relationships and relax together before saying goodnight.
Sleep is too important for your child to just leave the amount and quality of it up to chance. Sleep is where brain wiring happens, processing occurs and memory is cemented. There are plenty of studies showing the negative effects of poor or limited sleep for children, some of which include a decrease in academic performance, altered mood states, depression and even obesity have shown links to lack of sleep. So how do we ensure our little ones get enough sleep and that bedtime does not end up a battle of the wills every evening? The most important ingredient – ROUTINE!
Here are a few tips to get you thinking about the bedtime routine in your home.
Get your child to help you plan the bedtime routine! Depending on his stage of development, explain to him in a simple (or more complex) way why sleep is so important. Then get out a piece of paper and write or draw all the ideas (yours and his) about a good bedtime routine. Try to put ALL the ideas down without a discussion and then once you both feel like you have had an opportunity to exhaust your contributions, take a look at each one. You may need to decide on “essentials” (e.g. bath/shower, brushing teeth) and “nice to includes” (playing a last game, watching some more TV). Remind your child of the time available for all these bedtime activities to fit into and then select from the ideas accordingly. Perhaps after all the “essentials” you could each pick one or two “nice to includes”. Once you have a plan, why not make a bedtime routine chart to help you both remember. Looking at this chat every evening will help your child take a little of the responsibility for each activity as well as help him to develop his ability to sequence (you can’t, after all, put on your PJ’s before you have a bath!!!).
Reading stories to, or listening to him read stories, or allowing him time to read before bed is a great bedtime activity as it is calm and also prepares his mind for sleep. It can help your child to wind down and refocus his attention towards the end of the day and sleep. Research has shown that you should be reading at least 2 books with your child every day and bedtime is an easy time to make sure that you are doing that.
Get a book or journal that you and your child can keep together. Perhaps you can draw/write on the right page and he can draw/write on the left page. Take a few minutes while sitting in bed together to draw or write something about your day or simply just to doodle a little. This can help to spark conversation about your child’s day as well as help him to process what has been happening in his day. It can help to clear his head, sort through events and process concerns. This will make use of both the right and left sides of his brain to help link the emotional aspects of events with the ordered, logical reasoning part of the same events. This can help your child make sense of his day and create a sense of ownership and control over what he has experienced over the last several hours.
This is one of our favourites. We ask the question what was a high for you today (a highlight/a positive/ a rose)? And once that has been answered and discussed a little we ask what a low was for the day (a low light/a negative/a thorn). As your child is thinking about his day to pinpoint a high and a low he gets the opportunity to revisit his day and process some events a little more before his brain slows down somewhat in preparation for sleep. In our home, we then use the high and low as the basis for a prayer before kisses, cuddles and lights out.
*One last thing*
“I’m thirsty, I’m still hungry, I need to potty, just one more story” must be the echo coming from many homes around the bed time hour! There’s always one last thing and as a parent, you can be so torn between sticking to a routine and giving in to a legitimate need, like being thirsty. Try to build in all the “one last things” into your bedtime routine so that you can say with confidence “it’s sleeping time now, you have just had a sip of water and been to potty”. Once he is tucked in bed, he needs to stay there. If you give into one this evening there will be a president set for every evening to follow!
*Rough and tumble play*
Be sure to include some rough and tumble play around 4 to 5pm every day. It could be jumping on a trampoline, having a pillow fight, doing somersaults in the garden/on your bed or just plain playing “silly billy’s” around the house/garden! This play gives input to your child’s movement system and research has shown that children who have the opportunity to engage in this type of play in the late afternoon (not just before sleep time) have better quality sleep.
*A few other ideas:*
- Play a short, calm game (e.g. pick-up-sticks, dominoes, card games, I spy)
- Spell a word or phrase on each other’s backs using your finger to “write” (e.g. “sleepy head, I love you, sweet dreams”) or draw a simple picture (e.g. smiley face, square)
- Start a story that they can add to (e.g. once upon a time there was a little bug named Bingo, and he wanted to visit….), you could each have a few turns to build on to the story and even continue the next evening.
- Have a cup of warm milk
- Sing a favourite song together
How wonderful would it be to have your child look forward to bedtime rather than fighting it? Try to create a routine that works for YOUR family and is rich in cherished, meaningful family time.
Happy planning and may the bed bugs not bite!