Our kids are aged 11, 11, 7 and 4. They all share bedrooms -the girls together and the boys together. My husband works shifts, so often I am negotiating the dinner, bath and bedtime routine on my own.
Often I am trying to clean up from dinner, listen to readers, brush teeth, read bedtime stories, and negotiate arguments by myself when I am already tired, over it and just wishing for a little space and silence. I’m sure bedtime would be so much easier if it happened at the beginning of the day when I am fresh and filled up, but it doesn’t, so I’ve been making an effort to work out how to make bedtime easier for everyone.
Here are some of the things we’ve changed to make bedtime easier:
1. Make your schedule work for you not against you.
It’s important to us to have dinner as a family when we can, but when Dad is on day shift that means dinner is late and bedtime can be even later. So to make this work for us we’ve changed the routine and our kids bath/shower before dinner and eat in their PJs, then after dinner they just have to wash faces and hands and brush teeth. This means there is no mad rush through routines and bedtime is not super late.
Our routine won’t work for everyone, but the trick is to find a routine that works for you and your circumstances. You don’t have to do things the same way as everyone else, experiment and find out if a tweak in your routine will allow for a more relaxed and calm evening routine.
2. Get the kids to help.
There is only one of me. I can’t be everywhere, and do everything, and I know I get stressed and cranky when I try and that can turn bedtime into cranky time. So I enlist help, and usually it is from the kids.
Everyone has an after dinner job. Even my four year old helps to clear the table and stack the dishwasher so we can get most of the clean up done before bedtime.
The big kids have a list of things they need to take care of for themselves – brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes etc. – and they also help their little brother. They read to him, help him brush his teeth, and help him put on an audio book when he gets in bed.
3. No screens after dinner.
There’s been alot written about screens affecting sleep, and I’ve noticed that any kind of screen time in the evening often makes it harder for my kids to switch off and get to sleep. So we have a general rule of no screens at all after dinner.
You may listen to music or podcasts or spoken stories on your ipod in bed, but no playing games, no computer, and no TV.
4. One-on-one time at bedtime is worth it.
I know it seems crazy to try to squeeze in some one-on-one time into the bedtime routine, but over the years, and especially as my girls have gotten older, I’ve found that it is worth the effort.
Even if all I manage is to sit on the edge of a bed for a 3 minute chat, or hold that hug for a moment longer, or rub a back for a few minutes, these little moments pay off with calmer, more connected kids who find it easier to wind down and go to sleep, and not come out to ask a million questions during the evening.
5. Help your kids relax.
Falling asleep is not always easy, I know, because I struggle with it often. Finding ways to help our kids unwind and relax makes it much easier for them to get to sleep. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort to find strategies that work for each child and help them use them, but long term it has made things much easier for us. I talk about some of the ways we help our kids wind down for sleep here.
6. Everyone goes to bed at the same time.
This was the game changer for me when it came to bedtime.
While I don’t expect my 11 year olds to go to sleep at the same time as my four year old, I do expect everyone to head to their bedrooms and be quiet at around the same time.
Having everyone quietly head off to their rooms between 7:30 and 8pm makes it much easier to get my little one into bed, it allows the older kids some quiet time before bed, and it means the house is calmer and quieter which helps everyone to relax, including me.
7. We don’t enforce a strict sleep time.
While everyone heads to their room at the same time, we don’t expect everyone to go to sleep at a set time.
The kids are allowed to go to sleep whenever they need to, as long as they don’t disturb anyone else. That means they need to do something quietly, in their beds, until they are ready for sleep. The three big kids manage this easily now and read, draw, or listen to music or stories, but the little one sometimes needs some help, which we are happy to give.
This takes a huge amount of pressure off me, it means that I am no long the ‘sleep enforcer’, it takes away the potential for battles, and it gives control back to my kids, who I trust will know when they are tired, or ask for help if they are struggling to fall asleep.
8. Let them get up.
If our kids need a drink, they get up and get one. If they need to ask us a question they do it. If they need one more cuddle, we give it.
We try to meet our kids needs without negativity and without a song and dance. We don’t get involved unless we have to, because we are tired too and need a break, and we are not afraid to tell our kids that. But we also know that being a parent doesn’t stop just because it’s night time so we offer that extra hug or those words of reassurance because we hope that if we meet their needs and they know they can always come to us they will feel connected and secure and that in turn will help them to sleep better.
9. Teach them that sleep is good.
Lately we have been working on teaching our kids that sleep and bedtime are good things, enjoyable things, not something to avoid or fear.
Beds, bedrooms and bedtime are not punishment. They are not something bad, or boring. Going to sleep is not something you do to please others, it is not a battle, or a test or a competition. Sleep is good. Resting and relaxing is good, even if you are not asleep. It’s good for your body and for your brain. Bedtime is an enjoyable time, a chance to get lost in a book, to let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, to dream about wonderful things, and to enjoy your own company.
10. Be prepared for change.
If there is one thing I have learned about kids it’s that just when you think you have a handle on things as a parent, they will go and change and you’ll have to figure it out all over again! This definitely applies to bedtime. Just when I think we have the perfect routine happening something changes – the girls need to do homework after dinner and use the computer, my big boy just can’t settle, shifts change, after school activities encroach on bedtime… Being stuck in a strict routine won’t work long term, so always be prepared to look for new ways to do things, and to work with new circumstances.
Is bedtime a battle at your house?
Do you have any tips for how to make bedtime easier for everyone?
I’d love for you to share your ideas and have a chat in the comments below.
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Bek @ Just For Daisy says
Oh Kate! SUch a timely post – bedtime has always had ups and downs here and we’re in a bit of a slump again with our girls taking quite some time to settle AND wanting us to lay with them – particularly Miss 4. I like some of your ideas above and think the biggest thing that I feel lets us down is when we’re not in our groove and we’re out of routine. Those nights where we rush the kids into bed or skip over story time etc we screw ourselves over!! ha!
Anyhew – thanks for a great post x Here’s to good sleep eventually huh!?
My four year old often wants me to sit with him. We’ve been working on delaying that until he really is ready for sleep so I am not sitting there all night. So I do the ‘in and out’ thing and quietly potter ner by as he works on relaxing by himself. But I’ve also been working on just accepting that he needs me to help him to sleep and trying to make it more pleasant for both of us. So there is a big comfy chair next to his bed, and I take my kindle and read while I hold his hand…
It won’t last forever… my 7 and 11 year olds used to want me close when they fell asleep but they don’t any more!
I love this article, Kate (I love your site full stop!)
I have had great difficulties over the years being on my own mostly with 2 girls (3&8) and my eldest with ADHD who has only recently started sleeping before midnight thanks to Melatonin. I recognise the tiredness in myself making me occasionally irrational or uptight, the endless after school activities that mean a regular routine is out of the window, fitting in homework, rhythmic training exercises (for the ADHD-er) all making the nightly rou-sort of-tine marathon, hell, often…..this really helps and for the bits that I’ve incorporated by natural reflection it is reassuring. You are a brilliant mother and an inspirational blogger. Thank you for all your contributions ….
After school stuff can really make sorting out a bedtime routine difficult can’t it! Sounds like you are doing the best you can… and you need to take a moment and pat yourself on the back for that!
Deb @ Bright and Precious says
Timely post for me too. I have fallen in the rut of being the sleep enforcer. I’ve always believed in points 7 and 8 – but so easy to get caught up in wanting a break myself and thus getting cranky about little people not going to sleep.
I think it is not only normal but also really important for you to want and need a break…
For our bigger kids we’ve tried really hard to not get involved with any after bedtime stuff unless we really have to. I sometimes have to remind my big boy that I am tired and can his question wait till the morning, but usually that small acknowledgement is enough, and if I’ve taken the time to connect with him before bedtime it lessons the ‘but I have to tell you this’s even more.
Deb @ Bright and Precious says
True. Good reminder, Kate.
Mandy Barbie Bieber Beyond says
Sounds very much like our house Kate. My older girls are old enough to take care of themselves at bedtime, so that just leaves my younger two. It’s so much easier with some sort of routine.
Great tips Kate! Especially the reminder to treat sleep as something good, not something to dread. Looking at my own situation, I’m glad we don’t talk about sleep as a punishment, and I think that’s huge. Sometimes you’ll hear families use sleep as a consequence, when really it should be something enjoyable or at least part of your routine you have to do (like brushing teeth or eating).
The everyone to bed at the same time, but you chose when you go to sleep has helped us here. But still finding a way to get my older children to turn her brain off and into sleep. We are currently using a mediation CD from the ABC shop which works about 50% of the time.
Ah we have that problem here too… story podcasts and CDs help mine.
This is brilliant. My 3yo has always been a difficult sleeper and cannot fall asleep on his own. This is the absolute first time I have read a post about sleep that doesn’t involve “training”, or insisting that he “must” learn to fall asleep on his own or else he’s doomed for life, or that he “has” to absolutely be asleep by such and such a time, etc. Your approach is gentle, and understanding of age differences and needs, and creates a warm environment rather than one where the parent is just looking at the clock wondering what’s wrong with their child because he can’t fall asleep by exactly 7:30 like the books say he has to. So, thank you!!!!
I have a four year old who still needs my help to settle… and an 11 year old who no longer needs my help but still struggles with this… so while sometimes I wish I could ‘clock off’ at a set time every night I know that I don’t stop being a parent just because it’s bed time :)
After a harrowing bedtime just last night, this is brilliant. I found that if I put bedtime off, just about 10-15 minutes, to allow myself some time to lay on my bed while the kids play in their room, I get that quiet and solace that I need and we are able to get through bedtime without my crankiness. It’s like a reset button. We also send all the kids to bed at the same time but my oldest is sometimes the worst about it. She doesn’t want to go to her room or go to sleep. I tell her she doesn’t have to sleep, she can read quietly. She seems to want to stay up with Daddy and me. Which is nice and sweet but I’m homeschool and am with them ALL day and evening. It’s mommy and daddy time. I have to have that time with him or we’d never see one another. I am glad you mention sending your kids to their rooms at the same time as well. Great points!
Great article. We’ve just transitioned our youngest, almost three, into a big bed and in a room he shares with his brother. Finding it hard to get him to sleep and allow the oldest to sleep without being disturbed. I like the point about same bedtime and allowing them to choose when to sleep. Just need my youngest to stay in his own bed :)