Some things to remember to fill bedtime with joy and learning!
Is bedtime a dreaded part of your day?
You are not alone. It can be the stickiest part of any family's day. Tears, tantrums and endless "one-mores" make it really, really hard. Here are some tips, and tricks to make it go a little smoother... and dare I say, transform it to a favorite, even, joyful part of your day!
Let's Get On The Same Page
For the purposes of this article, bedtime is EVERYTHING that you do from the time you finish dinner to walk out of the their room. This might be a broader definition than you expect. I do this purposefully. The entire time post-dinner should be spent calming down and cooling off from the excitement of the day.
Do note that Just because we are calming down from the day does not mean play time is over - especially if you eat a VERY early-bird dinner. It just means that the play needs a specific tone.
Think of activities as warming or cooling. Activities before dinner can be warming - playground time, catch with a ball, riding a bike, playing chef, or drummer, or damsel in distress. Activities after dinner should be cooling - imagining with toy animals, playing with puppets, doing a puzzle, building with blocks.
1. Be Strong Mamas & Papas
The most important part of bedtime routine... is the routine. Which means you have to set something up that you can stick to. If you can only manage 2 books, say 2 books, and mean 2 books. This means, the words, "Just this once" should not come out of your mouth. If your toddler or preschooler can convince you to read an extra book once, they will try for ever, and ever, and ever each night after that.
2. You can reign it in
Okay, your bedtime "routine" is out of control. This is not a point of no return thing. You can reign it in. It will just be an adjustment for both you and your kiddos. Remember the following:
Every adult putting kiddos to sleep should know and follow the routine
I just heard a very smart pediatrician say, "no child every passed away from crying" (just be sure their needs are met)
Refer to ground rule #1. Be Strong Mamas and Papas!
Eventually, they will get it. When you say only 2 books, and stick with only 2 books night after night with no exceptions, they may not stop asking (we can hope) but the tantrums will eventually stop!
3. Don't Give In
Similar to #1, yes, but important to say. Children tantrum because they see it has a history of working to help them get what they want. Don't give tantrums the power. Your kiddos will learn, I promise!
4. Practice Practice Practice
If bedtime is sticky, especially if you are making a change in your routine, have a practice bedtime with puppets, stuffed animals, and finally your kiddos. Practice each night as a part of your cooling play for a couple weeks. It takes time to build a new routine.
5. Don't be discouraged by regression
It can be really frustrating, but just know that kids regress. It doesn't mean anything about you or about them. This is why it is important to repeat and reinforce the routine every night (we'll talk about this more later).
Why Is Bedtime SO Hard?
It's hard for a couple reasons.
1. Your kids love you and want to spend time with you. They have your undivided attention at bedtime... so they want to keep it as long as possible.
2. Being awake is fun! The world is a magnificent place of discovery and learning... its hard to walk away from that!
3. Transitions... most humans (not just children) struggle with transitions and bedtime is full of them. Think about how hard it is to walk away from something you feel like you are in the middle of. SO HARD. Transitions feel similarly to children, except they have fewer coping mechanisms than you do.
From downstairs to upstairs, from brushing teeth to pjs, from playtime to story time. The transitions are endless and FAST! especially if we are in a rush. So what do we do?
Supporting Bedtime Transitions
1. Predictability and routine helps -
if they know what is coming next, they will have an easier time with the transition.
2. Extra time.
This one can be hard, especially if you are coming home late from work BUT it takes the stress off of you to rush them through one thing to the next. Build in as much extra time as you can. It will just feel better... not to mention you will make room for more learning and fun!
3. Use a timer.
A kitchen timer or a timer of on your phone. Warn kiddos when you are about to stop doing something and start doing something else. You might say, "I will set the time for 3 minutes. When the timer goes off we are going to go upstairs. " Be sure to confirm that your kiddos heard you by asking for eye contact, asking them to repeat what you said, or by you repeating it to them (a couple of times).
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
The repetition may feel exhausting and unnecessary, but it is not. The more you repeat, the better off you will be. It takes children YEARS - until they are between 6-8years old to internalize routines quickly. Even then they may need reminders because every kid is so different!
5. Narrate the behavior you want to see.
Celebrate and give your kiddos attention for transitioning easily. For moving from one place to another when the timer dings or when you ask.
6. Be as calm as possible.
Children can sense your mood. If you are dreading bedtime, they will too.
7. Once you commit to a routine, commit to the language you use too.
Give each step of the routine a name and use it every night. Give children the same reminders. It will all help in making children feel like they know what is going on, and that they have some control. Plus, once you have a script, it will work with the routine to lighten your mental parenting load!
Easy ways to encourage learning time in your routine!
Build-in skill development: Take advantage of learning opportunities
1. When You Review Bedtime Steps:
(which you should do a couple of times during bedtime)
Sequencing: First, Next, Then, Before, Last (Language)
Ordinal Numbers: First, Second, Third (Math)
Counting: The number of steps, how many you’ve completed, and how many are left (Math)
2. During Physical Self Care (bathing, brushing teeth, etc.)
(empower kiddos to help. ask them to help, one night they will be able to do it!)
Reviewing Body Parts: Identification and purpose (Language)
Rhyming “We will wash your tummy… yummy!” (Early Literacy)
Syllables “Let’s wash your elbows. El-bows, 2!” (Early Literacy)
Consent & Advocacy (Social-Emotional)
ABCs & Counting during teeth brushing or dressing— forward and backward (Memorization of Early Skills)
Undressing and Dressing: Zippers, buttons, pull-on and pull-off, etc. (Gross Motor/Fine Motor)
Clothes: Folding and placing dirty clothes in laundry (Categorization & Pattern Identification; Math)
Have baby read a page (Early Literacy)
Have baby act out a page (Early Literacy & Comprehension)
Have baby turn pages (Early Literacy)
Talk about letters you see on the front cover - start with uppercase letters; reinforce the idea that letters represent sounds (Phonics) ** No need to force this. Mention it, offer it, and actively explore it only when your child shows interest (if before age 5)!
More ideas for your bedtime routine
Opportunities for more learning! Consider incorporating:
Oral storytelling (Language, Literacy)
Retell your day (Language, Literacy)
Chapter books 2.5/3 year old+ (Literacy + Memory)
Child/baby-directed play - see what your baby, toddler or preschooler chooses in terms of play. Encourage cooling play!
Quiet time play - cooling, whisper level play
Calming Play Ideas
If you want to have playtime during your bedtime routine, consider offering these cooling types of play.
Offer during child-directed play, guided play, & quiet time play
Arts (Language, Motor Skills, Visual/Motor Integration, Sensory) like Drawing or Play-doh
Imaginary Play - with toys like animals and trains (Literacy, Language, Social Emotional, Contextual) **Not dramatic/pretend play - when you/your child takes on characters.
Using puppets, baby dolls, and/or stuffed animals
Building (Math, Language)
You can reclaim a calm, peaceful bedtime full of learning and joy that works for your entire family. A lot of it has to do with sticking to the routine AND giving yourself the time to go through the entire routine while taking advantage of the different learning opportunities it offers.