Our Simple Bedtime Routine

The following was written by Simple Kids editor Kara Fleck and originally appeared August 2010.

We’ve talked before about my belief that kids need routines they can count on. Bedtime is one of the routines we hold sacred at our house.  The order is always the same and, with rare exception, we don’t deviate from this routine.

Sometimes mommy is in charge of bedtime and sometimes daddy is, but the line-up is the same, no matter who is telling the story and tucking them in.  The kids rely on it and I think they find comfort in knowing that the routine will be consistent, whether we are at home, traveling and staying in hotels, or at Grandma’s house.

This routine helps us to provide an anchor for the kids when life changes happen. During times when the rest of our life is in flux, Chris and I make a greater effort to make sure that some things stay the the same for the children.

Bedtime is one of those routines that helps us hold steady as a family.

Our Simple Bedtime Routine

Our bedtime routine is:

  1. Bath
  2. Pajamas
  3. Brushing Teeth
  4. Story Time
  5. Sleep

Bath and Pajamas

A nightly bath is for cleaning off the dirt of the day’s play, of course, but it is also for splashing and laughing and relaxing at the end of the day.  Bath time marks the start of the transition toward bedtime in our house.

This is a bubbles-free, warm water bath to help get out the last of the day’s wiggles or calm a fussy toddler.

Afterward, we wrap the kids up in a soft towel (sometimes I warm them up for a few minutes in the dryer) and dry them off.  My kids own soft cotton pajamas.  Pajamas should be snug-fitting, but not too tight. All three of my children kick their covers off at night, so during the cooler months, pajamas made of a tight knit or thermals are our preference.

Brushing Teeth

Each of the kids has their own toothbrush, small tube of toothpaste, and small cup for brushing their teeth.  When we travel I make sure to pack these items so that this aspect of our routine is the same on the road as it is at home.

We do have to help our youngest two brush their teeth, to make sure each tooth gets cleaned, but this is made easier by playing the “let me count your teeth” game.

Story Telling and Songs

After teeth are brushed, it is time to be tucked into bed. My kids all have a favorite blanket and that is my son Max with his sheepskin in the top photo.  Sometimes they might request a special doll or stuffed animal.

This is when we tell or read a story.  For my oldest, this might mean taking turns reading a story out loud or taking turns making up a story to tell.  Sometimes this is also when she wants to talk a little about her day.

My kids all have their favorite books, but the most popular bedtime request is for me to make up a story. Main characters who share my children’s names and personality traits are well-liked (a recent hit with my son is about a zoo full of animals all named Max). They also love hearing stories from my husband and I about our childhoods.

We have a special bedtime lullaby that I have been singing to the children since they were babies, too.  It is just a melody I made up one evening, with simple repeating words, but it calms us all and the only time I sing it to them is when it is time to sleep.

My youngest two children aren’t often awake much longer than a story and a song, but my oldest is usually not quite asleep. For her we have the rule that “you don’t have to be asleep, but you do have to stay in bed” and she may choose to read to herself for a while longer. More often than not, a check on her fifteen minutes later will find her asleep, too.

An Anchor at the End of the Day

Bedtime can include a bedtime snack, evening devotion or prayer, listening to soft music, and turning on a light night.  My youngest still likes to be wrapped up in her blanket and rocked to sleep in the rocking chair. As a child, I enjoyed listening to my favorite music box while I fell asleep.

The key is repeating the routine until it becomes a habit that anchors the end of your day.

A routine helps our children know what to expect next and it helps my husband and I go on “auto-pilot” after a long day.  Bedtime for our three kids goes smoother with two parents helping, but if one of us isn’t here the other one and the children know the routine.

When my husband or I announce “bath time” the kids know that our bedtime routine is beginning:  after the bath, brushing their teeth, pajamas, and then a story and going to sleep are the order of the evening.

Does this mean it always works perfectly? No, of course not. I’ll be the first to admit that a bedtime routine isn’t a fail-safe. We are only human, after all, and so our children.

Some nights bedtime takes longer than others, some evenings are complicated by teething toddlers or crankiness or distracted adults tempted to rush through the routine.  Perhaps a tired child falls asleep before bath time or a sick or worried child needs extra time to set their mind to rest.

But, over all, we focus on our routine, going through its familiar rhythm, and the majority of the time, bedtimes are peaceful at our house.

Does your family have a bedtime routine? A favorite bedtime story? How does the night time transition go at your house?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. Our bedtime routine is very similar to yours. We also have “talks” once everyone is tucked in, a tradition carried over from my husband’s family. Each child gets a few minutes of one-on-one time with Mom or Dad to talk about how the day went. It’s interesting to see their perspective on the day or to hear about something that went unnoticed by us “tall people”. It’s a nice tradition that helps ensure we have a one-on-one connection each day.
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Preschool Themes- A Few Favorites for Fall

  2. I couldn’t agree more!! You are right on. {as usual} Ours is Bath time, Books, and Bed. There are so many changes during life, that I truly believe that our kiddos need to know they can count on *something* at home.

    I really appreciate how you put words to the best practices of parenting! Even if we all fall short at times.
    Abby @ abby & her boys´s latest post: Thank You- Ms Wearstler

    • Abby, you are right: we do all fall short at times. I know, at our house, over the summer bedtime for my oldest started sliding later and later in the evening until she was going to bed waaaay too late for an 8 year old.

      Luckily, it is pretty easy to correct these things and start turning them around. We just started making a greater effort to get bedtime for her started a little earlier each night until we were back on track for the start of school. Having a rhythm already in place made this change a relatively painless one. 😉

      It is nice to be able to count on simple routines like this, for grown-ups, too :-)
      Kara @Simple Kids´s latest post: Being An Example- Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them

  3. Hi Kara. Thanks so much for writing this post. Bedtime at our house is almost identical to yours. Having a bedtime routine for our children is good for us adults, too – there is a beautiful, gentle rythm to the end of our day as mom and dad quietly fall into the routine alongside our bambinos. It is almost like a dance – we each know our steps and smile at each other over moppy little heads being dried with fluffy towels, or when we pass each other in the hall – he on his way to fetch his glasses to read Bible Stories to the baby, and I carrying our toddler daughter to bed for her read-by-mommy-bedtime story. We get together about 5 minutes later for prayer time, and then swop partners: I take the baby to open the milky bar for bedtime drinks, and now it is dad’s turn to read to our daughter. It is encouraging to read that others also find end-of-the-day bliss in having a gentle routine!

  4. Our bedtime routine is one we keep consistent and rely on quite heavily. Like you mentioned, it gives them something they can count on even when life is crazy or we are away from home. It’s very similar to yours — Bath, Books, Bed (with teeth brushing in the bathtub).

    We always let each kid pick a book and end the day with a family hug and “kisses all around” before taking each kid off to their own bed. It’s a nice reminder of what is important in life.

  5. We all get our pajamas on and meet in Kiddo’s room to read. Hubby or I read to Kiddo until he gets drowsy. Even the dog expects to be included in the reading time and be tucked in to her bed.
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  6. we also have a consistent bedtime routine we have written on a dry erase board every night…go potty, pj’s, brush teeth, wash face, story… written in a ‘to-do’ list fashion with each child’s initial repeated next to each item. When they complete each task, they wipe off their initial with their finger. With 3 kids, this helps us as parents not be nagging and asking, “did you remember to…???”
    The more quickly they finish the tasks, the more time they have to read a book in their beds before ‘family story time’.
    One child gets to pick the family story each night (we put the initials on our calendar so everyone remembers whose turn it is) After quiet individual ‘reading’ time (only our oldest child can actually read but the 5 & 3 year old look at their books quietly) we gather together for a cuddly family storytime, then off to bed.
    This is the part that can be tiresome for me at the end of the day… each child will need something while I am whispering prayers with another one and I am constantly going from bed to bed checking on bug bites, sippy cups, saying sweet dream prayers, tucking in again… so on and so on… wonder if anyone has these restless moments before their children finally fall asleep? I confess, it can be very difficult for me to remain patient and calm after a long day and you know everyone just needs to get some rest! Whew… so sometimes even after the routine, I find myself stressed and tired after over an hour of doing ‘bedtime’.
    I also have a 7 year old who doesn’t like to go to sleep some nights because she often has ‘scary’ dreams (usually about wasps or minor things-but they are very real and disturbing to her). She tells me that she doesn’t like to dream at all because she says can’t ‘get out’ of her dream when she wants to, even if it’s a nice dream. Anyone have thoughts/experience with this???

    • Amanda English says:

      Sarah- I can identify with your problem. I have three children under 6. The older two ALWAYS got out of bed just minutes after bedtime. They need a drink, they need to go potty, they have a paper cut. Now, after bath, brush, story, devotional and prayers, before we say goodnight, I tell them to go potty and get a drink if they want it. Once they are in bed, the rule is: There is NO getting up and NO calling for me, unless someone is bleeding or about to throw up. That’s only for the older two, of course. The one-year old still gets waited on hand and foot. Her time will come.

  7. My children are way older now but the bedtime routine established when they were young set a great foundation and still influences our routines now. Although the kids can bathe and do the teeth thing on their own, our ‘living room’ shuts down @ 8:30 which means no computer, tv or cell phones. My youngest is in 6th grade so there are still reading requirements and we often read together.
    Paula´s latest post: A Watch Pot Never Boils

  8. we have a similar routine.

    I wanted to add that there is new research done (google it) that shows lavender can cause abnormal breast growth in boys…it also notes that it may cause early breast growth in girls too. I have since stopped using anything bath/body products with lavender in it – both for my kids and myself – bummer because it was a nice relaxing scent.

  9. Nearly the same but we all clean the home together before the before baths. Home is clean, then we are clean, the peace and quiet while we settle in to read, talk, sleep.
    Joseph Nally´s latest post: Must Parenting Be Stressful

  10. Christine says:

    Our routine almost mirrors yours. However, we have, at storytime, a “2 book” rule to keep things from getting out of hand. That has led to us saying that it’s time for bath and then 2 books. This means bedtime. Our son will ask that one parent or another do 2 books with him. It’s a great shorthand for what come next. Then there are prayers and kisses and bed.

  11. That is our bedtime routine too! Sometimes I do stories on CD though if I am tired. They also get real book stories earlier if I make this sub.
    Scarlet´s latest post: Pedia Lax Fiber Gummies Review and Giveaway Plus Healthy Eating Tips

  12. Our bedtime routine is exactly the same as yours except we only do bath twice a week. A routine is definitely a good way to go for every little body and adults too!

  13. Teeth, bath, pjs, “2 stories,” bed (including prayers and a back rub). My 3 year old is VERY into routines and doing everything “just so” and we find the bedtime routine to be very comforting to him. Unless we forget an element and then let the tantrums roll!
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  14. I sing a song to my three year old daughter everynight as she brushes her teeth. It doubles as directions for her to scrub her pearly whites in all the right places:

    “Top and bottom, top and bottom
    Up and down, Up and down
    Brush ’em all together, brush ’em all together,
    Turn your frown upside down”

    Aimee looks forward to singing this song every night before bed and I cherish this sweet time as well.

    Thanks Kara for the great post!

  15. I just love the counting your teeth idea!!! Where have I been!!! We have a reading hour where we all chill and read when the father person gets home from work and I do a pile of books then. Followed by supper, shower, sleep… I found once everyone is showered and in their jammies they all get hyped up and excited by a story each… I want everyone horizontal and dreamy at that stage!!! I will tell a story in the dark, while I lie down and nurse my little one to sleep and everyone listens in as they drift off, when he finishes nursing we all have a sleep… I love bedtime – my best time of day… everyone has a purpose and it is very peaceful and calm!!! And I love lying with my little guys as they drift off to sleep and tiny little macho men that need to hold hands in the dark and sweet little girls that need their backs rubbed so that they have happy dreams… love it!!!
    se7en´s latest post: The Week That Was – 38

    • I was just thinking the other day that our years of being needed at bedtime aren’t going to last forever … but I’m trying not to think about that too much and enjoy that, for now, everyone still needs to snuggle and cuddle and talk at bedtime.

      Peaceful and calm bedtimes are a nice way to end the day, especially if we happen to have a day that wasn’t very peaceful or calm. :-)
      Kara @Simple Kids´s latest post: 3rd Grade- Week Two

  16. We have a very similar bedtime routine, but we also include “clothes for tomorrow.” I find our mornings go smoother when the clothes are already out. My kids also share a bedroom, so if one wakes up first they can start their morning routine (which includes getting dressed) while the other is still sleeping.

    Another thing we did recently to refine the routine is moving the story location from the couch to the beds. Before we were doing bath/pjs/teeth/clothes upstairs, then down for stories, then back up for bed. This seemed to be too much transition and disrupted the settling routine. Now we go up for bath and don’t come back down again until morning! :) The kids anyway, I get to come back down after they are in bed.

    Also (sorry this is so long!) I recently wrote up the bedtime schedule and morning schedule because I was tired of reminding my kids (ages 3 and5) of the steps over and over. Now they have the schedule on the wall and they do it. I’m there to help, but no longer need to nag. So refreshing!

    With all things parenting, I think it’s important to be observant of what works with your family and what doesn’t, then take small steps to refine the process until everyone is happy… then refine it again a few months later because life is bound to change!
    Tessa´s latest post: First day of kindergarten

  17. I will say that I am a *little* too much of a free-spirit to stick closely to routines ALL the time, BUT consistent, predictable bedtime routines are a huge, huge, huge part of our family life. Ours is similar to yours. As the girls have gotten older, it’s become more flexible. When they are babies/early toddlers, I am careful to do the exact same routine EVERY night. It really helps meet their needs for consistency.

    I am a HUGE fan of solid bedtime routines. Thanks for this, Kara!
    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s latest post: What is it like to breastfeed a toddler

    • Well, nothing is 100% and the time of our nighttime routine isn’t set in stone, by any means (it floated quite a bit during the summer before we started school again LOL) but we do try to keep this the same. It makes it easier for our kids and their tired parents :-)

      I think you bring up a good point about babies/toddlers, too. I agree that a consistent routine is especially helpful at that age. And, I know for myself at least, as the mom of babies/toddlers who doesn’t get much sleep when her children are that age, it is nice to know what comes next so that I can go on auto-pilot if I need to, too. :-)
      Kara @Simple Kids´s latest post: Being An Example- Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them

  18. I am pretty much like Megan but we do believe in having consistent rhythms in our home. I LOVE your metaphor of an anchor. It SO resonates! For more laid back moms, I think it helps to really keep things simple. Ours is very similar to yours!

    Thanks fot the post Kara!

  19. I have two preschoolers and we actually start “winding down” about 4. We bath, get dressed, have a quick tidy whilst I finish preparing dinner, have dinner as a family about 5:30, brush teeth then have bible stories then bed time at 6. I find we were rushing at the end of the day so I just decided a few years ago to start earlier so the kids can remain calm and in a routine. It has been working really well for us.
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  20. Our bedtime is very similar to yours. We tend to incorporate a little snack in before brushing our teeth since Anna is going through a stage where she’s not eating much. I love saying our prayers together. It seem like prayer time gets a little longer each week because we take turns saying several prayers in a row. I love chatting a little bit about our day so we can talk about all of the things that we’re thankful for. It’s a great way to end the day.
    Tina @ Kids Devil Costumes´s latest post: Toddler Devil Costume

  21. Our bedtime routine is also fairly regimented – we try hard to adhere to a set schedule that starts well in advance of the target “lights out” time. We brush teeth and place dirty clothes in the hamper before the warm bath. And then after jammies are on, we settle into the recliner next to my son’s bed to read books and talk about the day.

    However, I’ve found that the older he gets, the less effective bathtime is at calming & winding down. Often, he’ll be all settled in and ready to do out “lights out” routine and get all revved up again. This has begun really elongating the process and makes it hard to stick with our very firm 8:30 bedtime. And frankly, since what little evening (and energy) is left after that is about the only “me time” I get for watching TV or reading my own books or magazines, I’m not too happy about it when there are delays.

    We really limit TV time in the evenings and try to work it in well ahead of bathtime (if at all) because it seems like it can be more of a stimulant than a relaxing element for our 4 yr old.
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  22. Hi Kara! I wish I still had the same structure at bedtime that my parents provided for me during childhood! Unfortunately, it often looks like this: http://youtu.be/97IDiP0O4ns

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  23. We are trying to get back into the habit of a consistent bedtime routine. This isn’t something we did with my daughter and she was fine with it but now that little brother is here and # 3 is on the way I feel I need the routine as much as the kids do! Plus, sometimes my husband travels or isn’t at home by bedtime so it helps me to have some direction.

    I have a question though. I hope it’s ok to ask here…

    My kids are 4 years (girl) and 9 months (boy). This makes it a little tougher to pull off bathtime. I had them taking a bath together but I’m starting to think they need to not be bathing together anymore.

    How do you handle two with larger age gaps but close bedtimes? I feel like if I bathe the baby and keep my daughter occupied out of the tub and then let her have her turn they are not both going to get attention at bathtime because I will be busy getting him dressed and ready for bed.

    I would love some input on how you all handle it. My son and baby #3 will only be 16 months apart so it will be a totally different game then! :)

    • I bathe my 13 mo. old in the sink, while I am loading the dishwasher after dinner. Everyone helps clear the table, and then I can rinse in one side, and he can bathe in the other. Which is great, cause he’s usually pretty messy now that he wants to feed himself a lot, and I am standing at the sink anyway.

  24. christina jones says:

    I need help!! Im a single mom of 4 ages 14, 7, 5 and 2 I can’t get them too bed or settle them down. I work full time and don’t get home till 6:30 and none of my kids will listen too me. They listen too there dad but when it comes too me forget it. I spent last night crying myself too sleep because they are so disrespectful too me.

    • Omg, that is my situation! But I only have two children, not 4. Both boys and both very stubborn and defiant. My oldest son is 10, youngest is 2 1/2. My ten year old has been defiant all his life, and was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder earlier this year and he doesn’t listen to me at all. Especially at night when i’m trying to wind everyone down. His behavior is rubbing off on his brother, which sabotages the routine I’ve had for quite awhile. How am I supposed to make anything work during bedtime? NOTHING is working. My kids will literally be up all night long and refuse to settle down several times a week. What the heck? ! This is just not normal. Kids are supposed to crave routines and structure which I do give them…….but some kids do not respond to that, which is why I ask what I should do because i’m tired. I know my children must be exhausted just like I am and I feel bad for them. They aren’t getting adequate sleep. I’ve heard countless people say it will take a child (mainly toddlers) up to a month to really conform to a routine. It’s always “it takes time, don’t give up, kids will eventually get the picture and go to bed without a fuss, it WILL work”. What a bunch of bolony! A month I can understand, but YEARS? ? ? It should not be like this. Nobody said it would be easy, but COME…ON, this is getting really ridiculous.

    • Hi Christina! My name is Amanda. It’s hard to offer advice when I don’t know much about your situation. But from your comment that they listen to your husband and not you, it can be assumed that they are capable of behaving. In other words, they don’t have ADHD or oppositional defiance or aspbergers or something like that. In that case, my first thought if MY children were being disrespectful to me is this: NO DINNER! I would eat dinner on the way home, fix the 2-yo a sandwich, and let the rest of them wonder. When they ask about it, I would calmly say that I don’t appreciate the way they treat me (give example) and I would be happy to make them a sandwich too as soon as they begin to show some respect. Now, I know that the same thing doesn’t work for every family, but it sounds like you’re letting them use you for a doormat. Try reading “Have a New Kid by Friday”. That’s where I got the idea. It’s great for situations where you may not have been consistent and need to regain control.

  25. Kristen says:

    We follow a very similar routine to yours, except baths are only a couple of times a week or as needed. Potty, teeth, pjs (with night-time dipes), *one* story, and lights out. Very often my children will get back up, turn the light on, and read stories. Although I never let on to them, I am really okay with this as long as they stay in their room and are quiet. I actually find putting them to bed a bit earlier than necessary and allowing for this gives them a nice transition.

  26. That’s similar to our bedtime routine when my kids were younger. Life is trickier now that we have four (soon to be five) and the ages are so spread out. My older daughters had far more routine than my younger sons, but I’ve luckily found that it all works itself out quite well even now without much of a routine at all. :)
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  27. I love(d) our bedtime routine when the kids were younger, but the older they get, the later their activities start and end (so that the younger ones get the earlier slots) so bedtime is a bit more chaotic and later than I’d like. Summer has been even worse with the older ones relishing in the homework/no early rising time so want to stay up late whether to watch a show or movie, play outside in the dwindling light, or read. Enjoy the simple routine while the kids are young – I don’t think I’m unique in the fact it gets more difficult as they get older.

  28. I have my 4 year-old daughter now, as she grows the more difficult to adjust her bedtime routines. Well, her weakness in sleeping fast is a mosquito net in her feet. She can’t live without that stuff.
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  29. our routine is very similar to yours… and i absolutely love it. i think it not only brings comfort to my son, but to my husband and me, as well. we can each pick up where the other leaves off if something comes up, we know what needs to be done, and, most importantly, my son can rely on this comfort at the end of the night.

    while i’ve always known the importance of routine for many aspects of the day, just recently has it become so apparent to me. we’re creating some soft routines for our whole day, allowing flexibility here and there, and i can’t say enough wonderful things about it.

    thank you for sharing… and reminding us all of the joys of routines!

  30. Great post Kara! Our bedtime routine is very similar as well! My kids LOVE the made up stories also (I never knew my husband I had such good imaginations until we started doing this!). It is also comforting to know that even though we stick to a routine every night that some nights it doesn’t go perfectly! 😉

  31. Our daily bedtime routines with my two kids are just the same like yours. The most perfect time for them is when I read wonderful fairy tale stories that they ever wanted to hear.
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  32. I’m just wondering: with your two smallest, do you have them bathe at the same time? What about the story telling?

    I have an 8-month old and have started thinking about having another baby (a year from now or so), and I’m trying to envision how it works!

  33. Hi Kara, it is our bed time routine too, but the story telling is only for afternoon nap. As for night time, they will sing a song before bed, so my husband and I will become the audience :)
    The only problem is the timing which cannot always be fix 😀

    Please visit my blog and I will be more than happier if you are willing to share your thought there :)
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  34. Are all your kids in one bedroom? If not, where are they all in bed for stories?

  35. We have a very similar bedtime routine; bath, teeth, book and bed (prayers and a quick back rub). This has been the routine since out 4 year old has been old enough to have a routine. However, we are finding that he will now throw a fit over going to bed almost every night, this also includes nap time (or rest time if he doesn’t want to nap). Some nights he will boycott everything as soon as bath time is done and this leads into a screaming fit with him pounding on the door. Other nights everything goes smoothly until it is actually time to lay down, then he states he isn’t tired, he doesn’t want to lay down, no blankets, no snuggies, no prayers or good nights. He will will cry for me to come back, he will apologize and I will go back in there and the whole thing starts over with him not wanting anything. If anyone has any ideas, I would really love to hear them. My husband and I are at our wits end with this. By the way, this is the same reaction that my husband gets from our son when he puts him in bed.

  36. Becca, maybe your 4 yo is done with naps. My son was not even 3 when nap and bedtime became a miserable struggle. He would actually fall asleep at nap after a fight, but then bedtime was a fight too, and he could keep himself awake for hours. When I gave up making him nap or even rest, he actually would go to sleep easier because he was tired! Of course, he has ADHD, which causes him to need less sleep. I still needed a break of course, so I would put a movie on in his room, or sit him at the table with coloring books and tell him it’s quiet time. He can play, but no running around the house, and use very quiet voice. If he wouldn’t follow these rules, then he would have to sit in time out until quiet time is over. I also give him melatonin, which helps him relax and not fight sleep at night.

  37. Duncan Faber says:

    Bedtime audiobooks!! There’s lots of great sites to get them, but we use this site a lot because all the stories are free and original. Here’s the link if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/moral-stories-for-kids


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