I used to babysit for a kid who had trouble going to sleep, staying asleep, and taking regular naps. I remember arrogantly thinking, “You know, if I ever babysat this kid over a long weekend, I could have his sleep habits cleaned up by the time his parents came home.”
I was in seventh grade.
Even as a slightly more rational adult, pre-kids I had lots of theories about sleep and how bedtimes should go. Then when we had our first baby I read a TON of books about children and sleep. I read about co-sleeping, swaddling, pacifiers, crying it out, Ferberizing, baby whispering, healthy sleep habits for happy children, and all sorts of other methods. I even tried lots of them, and I remember pleading with one author as I read, “But I DID that, and my baby is NOT responding how you say she will!”
In hindsight, I find it amusing that I was so flabbergasted by my inability to control my child’s every action. Muppet News Flash: even babies are independent little people.
As we added two more children and grew into our parenting style a little bit we gradually pared down our bedtime routine to the bare minimum. Because Josh’s job often requires him to be at events in the evening, the routine has to be something I can pull of by myself with three small children (only one of whom can fully dress herself). I do think it’s valuable to have a routine approach to bedtime, but it’s important to take into account your own family’s needs and temperaments.
Here is our minimalist bedtime routine:
- After being excused from the dinner table and helping clear their plates, the kids go upstairs and Hannah and Jack bargain with each other over who gets to go to the bathroom first. If they haven’t settled it by the time the parent(s) get upstairs, we decide.
- Everyone is taken to the bathroom and changed into pajamas.
- Baby is nursed at some point.
- Everyone gets their teeth brushed.
- We go into the girls’ room and sing the Gloria Patri* together.
- Hannah says her prayers.
- Jack says his prayers.
- One of the parents prays for the children.
- Kids get in beds, get kisses and hugs and “squinks” (squinks are little squinchy hugs during which the giver says, “SQUINK!”)
- Lights out, doors closed.
Generally everyone settles down pretty fast, although sometimes the girls chatter and Jack sometimes falls asleep by the door instead of in his bed.
I realize this seems kind of abrupt. We don’t bother with reading books before bed because we read books all day. If I were not home reading books all day to the kids, I would probably read to them at night. The routine is subject to change – it has changed in the past and almost certainly will change in the future because kids grow and needs shift. But this is what works for us right now: short, sweet, done.
What do you do for bedtime routines? Do any parts of your routine always stay the same? Have some things worked for one kid but not for another?
*The Gloria Patri is a song that doesn’t seem to be sung much in contemporary churches, but I grew up with it: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
The picture at the top of this post is of Hannah’s first nap in her crib, January 2006. Aww.