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:
- Brushing Teeth
- Story Time
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.
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?