After a full day of work either on the job or at home, most parents look forward to an evening with some time to unwind. Yes, there will be dinner and dishes, but if you have children in the mix, you’ll have to add in all that goes along with getting those little ones into bed and keeping them still enough for the sleep dust to take effect.
When we only had two children, things were a little more flexible in our home. In fact, it took us a long time to actually have a set bedtime for our boys. Both my husband and I would focus our efforts after dinner to complete projects, and we would continue in that mode until one of us would notice how late it was. Then we would negotiate about who should be on kid duty that night.
Once we added a few more children to our tribe, we became a little more pointed about establishing habits for the bedtime process so that our night would not be ambushed. Through trial and error, we were able to come up with some guidelines that created less stress for the bedtime routine.
- Watch the daytime schedule. With little ones, you may be setting yourself up for failure if you let your children sleep whenever they want. Depending on your child’s age, need for sleep, and his daytime routine, consider shortening that afternoon nap or at least make sure it’s not extending too close to the dinner hour. When your children don’t nap anymore, just be sure they are getting some outside or active time during the day so they are ready for sleep at a reasonable hour. On the other hand, not giving them naps that they need can also push them past the point and make it difficult to get them to settle down. As my daughter-in-law describes it, “Sleep produces sleep.” Don’t be fooled—skipping naps and keeping your kids up later is not going to make them sleep in the next morning! Being short on sleep just makes children tired and less apt to rest. When children are getting enough shut-eye, it makes them sleep sounder.
Have a consistent routine. This begins with having a set bedtime that the child is aware of and will not be arguing about every night. Consistency produces security because of the boundary it provides. Start the procedure about thirty minutes before the actual bedtime. Make sure the child has an opportunity to brush his teeth, get a drink, go to the bathroom—all the usual items that if not done beforehand result in “call backs.” There should also be time available for the child to share his day with you, have a simple back rub, and read a story. The more time you use to prepare your child for sleep, the less chance you’ll hear from him after you’ve shut out the lights.
Reinforce the bedtime routine. Especially when children are younger and just becoming acclimated to a bedtime routine (like when they have recently been switched from a crib to a big bed), this is an opportunity to reward them for staying in their bed. Consequences can come later if the rewards are not effective, but start out being positive and recognizing your child’s choice to cooperate with the routine. We like to reinforce when a child has “no call backs” and stays in bed after lights out. Even if a young child cannot understand the logic involved, he will respond to a reward. Recently, we’ve used quarters for emphasizing the importance of our grandchildren staying put after we’ve said goodnight. A quarter or two are set by their bedside, and if we are called back to their room, we take the quarter. A simple plan, but very effective. The same can be used to train them to stay in bed in the morning until Mom or Dad comes to wake them. Quarters, stars, bonus points all are great ways to build motivation for the child to make the right choice.
At the end of the day, having a few minutes to talk undistracted with your spouse can produce many benefits in your marriage. But in order to do that, you’ve got to have a predictable process to putting your children to bed. Follow a few of these hints, and you will find space in your schedule again—some discretionary time which will be a breath of fresh air as well as give you the recharge time that every parent deserves.
Question: How have you lessened the stress in putting your kids to bed? Share your answer in the comments below.