Bedtime – The Minimalist Approach

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.

10 thoughts on “Bedtime – The Minimalist Approach

  1. We have a similar minimalist approach. We read a Bible story from their Children's Bible, Sing, Pray and then lights out.

  2. i think i read every sleep book ever. every. single. one.

    sam used to require a great deal of bedtime routine and parenting to sleep but now he pretty much knows the drill — after dinner, a parent gives him a bath while the other one cleans up the kitchen; jammies on, teeth brushed; sam "helps" clean up the front room where all his toys are; if both parents are home, i nurse sam on the couch in the front room, then i gave him his paci, kiss him and tell him i love him, then tim takes him into his room where sam will sometimes accept being rocked for a second but usually he just points at his crib and tim puts him down and he goes right to sleep. if it's just me at bedtime, we do the same thing except i nurse him in the rocking chair in his room and put him down awake. if it's just tim, obviously there's no nursing. :). it's really pretty easy and minimalist.

    naptime is basically the same, except it's just me, so i nurse him in his room when i observe sleepy signs and put him down. he *usually* goes right to sleep, but some days (like today, for example) he wants to take his socks off and throw them and everything else out of his crib while yelling idle threats for a little while, in which case i go in, give him his paci, and tell him "it's naptime, go to sleep." sometimes this takes 2-3 times but he does eventually go to sleep.

    then there are the days when he wakes up 45 minutes into his nap…like today. sigh.

  3. Adorable picture!

    Bedtime routine is very simple for me at least. I remind my husband that it's time for the baby to get ready for bed. He takes him upstairs and when he's ready for me I go upstairs, nurse him a bit, then put him in his crib, make sure he's got a pacifier, pat/rub his back a couple of times and tell him I love him and will see him in the morning. And most of the time he just goes to sleep. Oh, there is a lullaby CD that I always put on when he's supposed to sleep – bedtime and naptime.

    Every once in awhile he seems a little more wound up when I go into his room so I might read him a story or two before feeding him, but that's pretty rare – like you we read books a lot during the day so I don't worry about not usually doing bedtime stories.

    Yes, I realize how lucky I am. Both in that most of bedtime stuff is not done by me, and in that the boy falls asleep in his crib pretty easily.

    My husband's part of the routine changes depending on if it's bath night or not. Generally he only gets a bath every other night, and that makes for a much longer bedtime routine. He plays in the tub for quite awhile those nights.

    If he's not getting a bath, he just gets put into his pjs and then occasionally they read some stories or just rock together and talk. I am never informed of the details of those conversations. It's guy talk after all.

    And once again I cannot leave a brief comment. Sorry. 😉

  4. Alissa, Sarah did the same thing with the 45 minute nap yesterday and the afternoon was ROUGH.

    Glad to know I'm not the only one with a simple bedtime routine!

  5. I did not read a single sleeping book, and Jesse is a fantastic sleeper. I'm half afraid I lucked out and this next baby will cause trouble.

    When he was newborn, he slept in bed with us. And we had no problems. The transition to his own bed was easy at about four months, and for a long time our bedtime routine was pajamas, in bed and lights out.

    Now he has to gather all his special toys, and we brush teeth, pray and sometimes sing before lights are out. Right now my biggest struggle is nap times because he's phasing out of them… but I'm not ready for him to give them up yet, so 1-2 days a week we compromise for playing quietly in his room. Sometimes it works and sometimes not.

    Do all your kids still nap? If not, do you make them play in their rooms quietly?

    Remember I didn't read the sleeping books so any pointers are great!

  6. Sheila, it IS nice that you are blessed with good sleepers! I had a fairly easy time with Hannah, but Jack and Sarah have had different temperaments and been difficult at different times. You get through it.

    Alyssa, my kids have to take rest time. They need time apart and I need some quiet in the day! Jack still mostly sleeps, but Hannah usually doesn't. They have to stay in their rooms and play quietly or look at books quietly. If things get out of hand with loudness, they get disciplined. We've never done anything else so they don't fight me on it. If they do start fighting me on it, I will still lay down the law, because we have a much better afternoon if we have some quiet time.

    As far as regular sleep times, I find the biggest adjustment is going from a crib to a bed. It's hard for them to learn to stay put! We still find Jack sleeping on the floor pretty frequently!

  7. What time do your kids wake up in the morning? What time do you yourself usually go to bed?

    Our routine = brush teeth, get into bed, snuggle. 🙂 We co-sleep and the kids generally sleep from 10:00 PM – 9:00 AM.

    I've been sticking with Quiet Time during Nap Time and yessssss … the afternoon goes so much better for all of us. How sweet that downtime is.

  8. Ours has always been simple too. It has always been hard for Dylan to settle down but anything we added to the bedtime routine always seemed to make it worse. The best way to get him settled was to remove all stimulation. Up until a few weeks ago it was just PJs, prayer, and lights out. But now Martin is reading The Chronicles of Narnia to Dylan at bedtime so all four of us listen to him read a chapter before we pray together. Then I go nurse Lydia to sleep but she is so easy to put down even without nursing. Last night I laid her down in her crib fully awake, we smile at each other, I told her goodnight, and I left the room. She didn’t cry or move, she just went to sleep.

    I used to wonder why the baby books said that baths calm children. That was never my experience. (For instance, Dylan gets out of the bath, puts on his hooded towel, and becomes a superhero called “naked boy,” running around the house climbing on anything he can find so he can “fly” (jump off).) Lydia is usually found giggling after her bath. But now I’m wondering if baths do at least prevent fussiness if not calm the children. They are always in good moods after baths and do seem to go to bed without too much fuss after the baths.

    1. How funny – Jack likes to be Naked Boy too, although when he says it, it sounds more like “Nikey Boy!” Sometimes we do baths at night, but more often I’ll bathe the kids in the morning or afternoon – they get wound up in the bath and I get stressed trying to get everyone dry and clothed.

  9. Oh I wish my baby would sleep so well, my baby will fall asleep usually while im feeding her a bottle at night and as soon as I lay her day she screams bloody murder and then in the morning I like for her to sleep while Im getting ready for work but it never happens and then me and my husband and older son are running around like crazy tired and trying to get ready for school and work . I need some order and tips please !!!!

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