Sometimes when I get into bed
And cannot go to sleep,
And after all my prayers are said,
And I have counted sheep,
I call to Mother, and I say,
"A drink of water, please."
She knows that I'm not thirsty, and
I only want to tease.
And so I laugh when she comes in
And opens wide the door,
She knows I only want to kiss
And hug her just once more.
~Kate Cox Goddard
I'm sure this situation sounds familiar to all of us. Despite the never ending urgency children exhibit during the day, they sure do know how to drag out the bedtime routine!
And perhaps we should take our cue from them on this one. It takes quite a bit for children to settle their bodies and minds down at the end of the day. You can't just expect then to plop into bed and go to sleep. So make bedtime a time of slowing down. Of course, it helps a great deal to have a predictable daily rhythm to every day. Then bedtime won't come as such a sudden surprise. ("What? Bedtime already?)
A bedtime ritual can ease the transition from busy day to peaceful night. The book, Seven Times the Sun has lovely rituals for bedtime and any other time of day. If your bedtimes (or days in general) are hectic, than I strongly recommend reading this. It's inspiring.
Here's how bedtime goes at our house:
~after dinner, wash up and brush teeth (we put some quiet "bedtime" music on at this point)
~story time (about 20 minutes. One story for my 3 YO son, and one chapter from a book for my 5 YO daughter) I'm firm about limiting the number of stories here. Too many can counteract the settling effect.
Now, the bedtime rituals for my 3 year old son are different from my 5 year old daughter's. But both are simple and pretty quick, so I don't mind having different routines. Each child will have different needs at bedtime.
My son, being three, is one who has more trouble physically slowing down, so his routine incorporates a more tactile approach.
~after bathroom visit, hop into bed
~turn off lights and light bedtime candle
~while I recite a poem, I give him a firm back rub (or scratch!) Sometimes a firm leg rub if he's feeling wiggly. This can help a lot.
~Blow out candle (he likes to make a wish)
~Kisses and hugs
~Blow kisses while I'm at his door
My daughter, being five, knows when she's ready for bed, and almost never resists bedtime. I take a different approach with her since she's one to lie there thinking about all sorts of things once she's in bed. (Just like me!)
~after bathroom visit, turn on night-light and hop into bed
~turn out bedside lamp and light candle
~I read her a poem from her Sweet Dreams cards (more about those later) and tuck it under her pillow
~blow out candle
~hugs and kisses
~wind up the musical bear (which was mine when I was little. Very special for her)
~blow kisses at the door
Both routines are simple, meet each child's needs, and are done in under five minutes.
So often I hear other parents complain about bedtime and the three big things that I notice when they describe their days are:
~The child is not getting enough physical activity. Outside. For at least three hours a day. Yes, really. Indoor play is not enough. Children need to run, jump, climb, and really move around. Sitting inside with toys, while it is valuable play, is not physical play.
~too much media. Especially at night. I could site a bazillion studies on the effects of TV on a child's brain here, but I'll let you Google that on your own. Let's just say it is counter-productive to a child's brain development, and watching TV will not help your child truly settle down.
~there is a lack of structure/rhythm during the child's day. Daily rhythms are so important for a child, and adhering to one will help you tenfold in getting through the day with minimal transition issues with your child.
Bedtime can be a peaceful and reassuring time for bonding with your child. It can be something special that your children will remember fondly as they grow. For me, it's a time to spend a few minutes alone with each child, treasuring them and truly seeing who they are. Children are so peaceful at sleep, and watching them sleep can be a reminder of just how little they still are, despite the fact that they're growing, in my opinion, way too fast!
Here are some bedtime related items that we love:
Sweet Dreams: 36 Bedtime Wishes These are beautiful little cards. Each one has a vintage children's book illustration one one side, and a lovely poem on the other. I've been using these since my daughter was two, and you wouldn't believe how many poems, some quite long, that she's memorized from hearing these every night. These make a great stocking stuffer, tooth fairy gift, or Easter basket treat.
All these books offer valuable suggestions for simplifying your (and your child's) life and providing a strong daily rhythm that will benefit the entire family.
These are our favorite three cds for bedtime. The kids will often request one of the Dreamland cds during the day, just for some quiet time.