When my first baby was young, bedtime was a joyous, nurturing ritual. It stretched on and on for an hour or more. There was a bath and lotion, punctuated by lots of cooing and kisses. We then moved on to dressing her up in the cutest, softest possible pajamas. Eventually there were stories and prayers, songs and goodnight games. We snuggled. We bonded.
I’m not sure when things changed. I’m pretty sure it was gradual, but bedtime has turned into a full on combat zone at my house. By 7:30, I am ready, fried, done. I love my kids and I need them to go to sleep. Immediately. It’s just after I-Refuse-To-Eat-This-Sick-Dinner-You-Made-Us O’clock and right in the middle of Let’s-All-Do-Homework-Together-For-Four-Hours Time. It’s a time that no matter how cute, sweet, intelligent, or beloved my children are, I want to be alone with myself and I want my alone time five minutes ago.
Recently I noticed how confrontational I’d gotten about bedtime and I was mortified. I wasn’t reading stories, the cuddles were perfunctory, and I was setting a world record for the saying, “GO TO BED!” the most times in ten minutes. I was treating my darling sweet kids like unwanted riffraff who needed to get out of my face. “I love you. I love you so much. I’m here to serve you. Uh-oh. It’s 8:00pm? GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” Should that really be the last impression I leave with them as they drift off to slumber land? Or ever?
So I decided to revive bedtime at our house. Thompson Bed Boot Camp wasn’t working. Not only did it feel horrible… for everyone, it wasn’t effective at getting anyone to sleep. They were coming back downstairs a gagillion times, having a hard time falling asleep, and complaining of all kinds of fears and ailments.
So here are few things that work for me:
1. Match your tone of voice to the feeling you want to create – You want them to relax? Speak calmly. You want them to feel safe, secure, and loved? Smile and speak with love. I have been known to stand at the bottom of the stairs screaming, “BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP!!” at the top of my lungs. And then I’m surprised when they have trouble sleeping.
2. Set a routine and stick to it – Order brings peace. If your kids know what to expect at bedtime, they are more likely to go along with the routine and feel confident in their ability to go to sleep.
3. Be present and don’t multi-task – Yelling at the kids to brush their teeth while you answer a few quick emails is not effective. I find that if I join them as they get ready, they get done much faster and with far less yelling. This is also a good time to bond and interact, especially if you don’t see them as much as you’d like because of school or work. It’s an oft-repeated cliché for a reason – you will never look back on raising your kids and regret spending too much time with them but you will surely regret it if you don’t spend enough.
4. Take a few minutes lying with each child and listening to them talk about their day – this is often when I hear the most from my kids about their lives. When I grill them after school, they generally give answers like, “Fine,” or, “Nothing,” when I ask them how their day went or what they did. Lying next to them in the dark I hear about who won at zombie tag, which boy is cute, and which kid my preschooler is praying comes down with the plague so he won’t be at school tomorrow. These are things I want to know.
5. Sing a song or read a story – Can you still hear your mom’s voice singing one of her favorite bedtime songs? I can. I just close my eyes and I can imagine it and it sounds like home. I can hear it as clearly as I can envision the covers and illustrations of my favorite picture books. These small actions help bond you for life.
6. Help them gather everything they need to stay in bed successfully – “But Mom, I need a drink,” “But Mom, I forgot my blanket,” “But Mom, I can’t find my Clifford Dog.” No more.
7. Oils and spider spray – I love essential oils, although I can’t say I have a deep-seated scientific knowledge of their efficacy. All I know is that they seem to work when my kids believe they will work. Oils have saved bedtime at our house more than once. “I can’t sleep because my tummy hurts.” There’s an oil for that. “My foot aches from ballet.” Let me massage that with an oil. “I can’t sleep.” I’ll get the lavender. Possibly my favorite bedtime oil use was when Wanda was terrified of spiders crawling on her in the night. I added a few drops of a yummy-smelling oil that’s supposed to repel bugs to a spray bottle filled with water and sprayed it in a perimeter around her bed. Bam. Ready for sleep.
8. Snuggle – Loving, calming physical touch still helps me calm down and go to sleep. Hug, cuddle and squeeze your kids at bedtime. Gently brush their hair or massage their feet. You can do this while you listen to them talk about their day.
Think about what you’re doing at bedtime. How does it feel? What are you accomplishing with the last few minutes of your child’s day? If it’s not all it could be, change tonight! It’s not difficult. It doesn’t cost any money. And it truly takes less time to get them down to bed when you use a little patience, a little planning and a whole lot of love.
What works great in your bedtime routine?