As I settled into the couch cushions after a particularly long and full day for the usual routine of story time before bed, I let out an audible sigh. My wife looked at me and asked, “Do you want me to read to the boys?” Before I could answer, I had my three year old son Berkeley climbing on my lap, My five year old, Eli cuddling tightly to my side with his feet tucked snugly under my legs and my oldest, Cuylar draping a blanket over all of us. I paused a moment and said, “Nope, I got it.”
It had been a long and full day for them too: the kids and my wife, but here they were looking to me to sit down and tie up the loose ends. I had an opportunity, not just to get my kids to bed as quickly and efficiently as I could so I could relax, but to calmly bring the day to a close. I had a priceless chance to be blissfully wrapped up in the relationships that I value most for a short time.
I’m not suggesting that I’m never irritated by the incessant return of children from the bedroom to get a drink or worrying that my son’s feet are going to go through his wall next to his bed. I am saying however that a great bedtime routine is more than that! Bedtime is one of those “crossroads” moments that can mean so much to the relationship and can pave the way for better behavior and compliance. It can also be a wonderful release from the rest of your daily routine.
When my counseling parents come to me and say, “My kids won’t go to bed. Every night it’s a battle just to get him to go to bed!” Usually the first thing I ask is if they have a regular routine they follow each night. Some say, “Yes, but it doesn’t work.” Some say, “no, I’m not sure what to do.” In either case I ask, “What is your WHY behind your bedtime routine? Why should you invest time in this routine?” Most of the time, the response is, “To get them to bed.” To which I state, “If that’s the whole point, why not just lock them in their room and tell them you’ll see them the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I think a bedtime routine is incredibly important but let’s reevaluate WHY we are doing it and maybe come up with a more proactive, positive WHY. Then we can talk about the how.”
Why have a bedtime routine?
Some of my top WHYs include…
· To tell them “I love you” without any distractions.
· To teach them healthy and responsible self care and sleep habits. To teach them something wonderful.
· To soak up their smiles and their youthful energy. To recharge!
· To set tomorrow up for success.
When I simply go through the motions of getting my kids ready for bed and my ultimate objective is simply to get them to sleep so that I can finally have some peace and quiet, I am generally met with resistance. “Just go to bed!” becomes an invitation to interrupt and upset me for the rest of the evening.
Bedtime can be so much more than a mechanical sequence that ends with the children closing their eyes. It can be a time for opening eyes; opening your own eyes to who your children are, what they like and how you can best help and teach them in their lives. The secret ingredient in great bedtime routines is genuine connection.
How do we make it great?
1. Get rid of distractions.
Turn off the cell phone. Get away from the computer. Turn off the TV. These things take away from your experience with your child and although they can be a distraction for kids that keeps them “out of your hair,” they actually encourage your child to stay up later and to disregard a parents instructions to quiet themselves and drift off to dreamland. Put your other work or chores aside during bedtime. Focus on them and the process.
2. Have a routine.
My youngest son struggles to put his pajamas on by himself. We often assume it would be easier to bark out an order to “get ready for bed” and then sit back until the kids file back in with teeth brushed and jammies on but simply giving the order without giving your assistance can actually draw out the process and grate nerves when the child becomes frustrated that he can’t get the cap off of the toothpaste or snap the top button on his footsies. Be invested in the routine and offer your help if needed, not because they are necessarily incapable but because it is a time to be helpful and engaged. As your child grows and is more capable, ask them to do parts of the task on their own and slowly build the tasks they do independently.
3. Do something calm but enjoyable.
Curious George, Berenstain Bears, Magic School Bus, Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller; I could go on forever. Recently I took our library books back to the library for my wife and when I hefted our library book bags onto the table to return them, the librarian said, “Are you Mr. Smithson?” I was a little of guard because I did not know the woman. I said, “Yes” and she continued, “I knew because your wife is the only one that checks out sixty books every two to three weeks.” We spend hours reading together. If you don’t want to read every night, tell a story from your past, play a quiet game or draw a picture together.
4. Come together in proximity.
Be close. Hug. Cuddle with your little ones. This is even important with tweens and teens. They may not want to cuddle but you can sit on the side of their bed. Place your hand on their shoulder or just rustle their hair. Find a way to come together and physically express that you want and like being with them.
5. Set limits and boundaries when they are in bed.
This is the part that can get complicated for so many parents. The most important part is to simply outline what the boundaries and consequences are after they have gotten in bed. Simple boundaries may include kids staying in their room and subsequent consequences could be to close the door of their room for a short time if they come out. If your child still continues coming out of his room it may require some teaching and problem solving during the happy waking hours.
It’s time to adjust and really understand the WHY behind the things we do and the choices we make with our children. The HOW often falls in place more easily when we know our WHY. Bedtime and so many other day to day interactions and duties can be more than just monotonous tasks we are obligated to do. They can shape our relationships. They can take drudgery and turn it into priceless enjoyment. Bedtime can actually become a great start for tomorrow!
Question: What is your favorite part of your kid’s bedtime routine? How can you make it better?
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