My eldest was in camp for most of the day, for the first half of the summer, meaning he continued his early bedtime/early wake-up routine he was used to during the school year. When his month at camp ended, we took a more laid-back approach to bedtime, and let him stay up a bit later than normal.
Summer is coming to an end, and soon will my relatively lax rules regarding bedtime. My son will be starting first grade in a few short weeks, and the demands and rigors of school require a healthy sleep routine.
People have asked me how well my kids sleep since they were born. The answer has never been great, and we have a lot to work on as a family. My eldest is an especially restless sleeper, while my youngest sometimes gets random bursts of energy in the middle of the night. One thing we are fairly decent at, however is getting our kids to bed early.
Whether your kids are too sleepy during the day, you’re worried about their health, or you simply want to enjoy some alone time before 11 p.m., there are plenty of reasons to want your kids in bed early. And, by early I mean before 8:30 p.m., if you have little ones. That said, if there is any group of kids who probably need more sleep, it’s teens, but I can’t speak to that personally.
My children (5 and 3), for the most part are asleep by 8. On many nights, my five-year-old, who is up for school around 7 a.m., is out by 7:30 p.m. As a family we have worked together to figure out the best ways to get our kids to bed. Here is what we have learned:
Start your routine at the right time
You have a long, exhausting day with the kids. Maybe you let them stay up a little later, hoping they will just crawl into bed without a fuss. Of course, this never happens. They insist on the whole bedtime production, and before you know it, it is midnight and they still aren’t asleep.
Little ones do not grasp the concept of time, so while we may know it is really late, they still think they are going to bed when they are supposed to.
Every family is different, but for me, I found figuring out when I wanted the kids asleep and then working back about an hour has helped our family establish a good routine. So if we want our kids asleep by 7:30, this means we are running the bath around 6:30. We then go on to read and relax until our kids are ready to sleep. Yes, it takes a while, but it is consistent and usually works.
Avoid late naps at all costs
I know a lot of parents who rely on naps to get work done, or who just like to have extra time with their kids in the evening. If that works for you and you are happy with your routine, that is totally cool. I also have been there on those late-afternoon car rides, when you pull into your driveway with a sleeping child in the backseat, who is way too energetic later in the night.
However, if you do want to get your kids to bed earlier, napping has to be early or non-existent.
I’m not going to post a chart about appropriate napping times, as I think each kid is different. I know lots of children still nap right up to Kindergarten, while others, like my oldest gave them up fairly early. My three-year-old still naps on occasion, but we do our best to keep them from interfering with his routine.
I know the adage, sleep begets sleep, so I do think naps have a place in a child’s routine. Children under 3 do need to nap during the day, and skipping them can often have a negative impact on bedtime. But, as mentioned above, length and timing really does make a difference.
A couple of years ago, I told a fellow mom about my struggle getting my children to fall asleep on their own. Between nursing my youngest and cuddling my eldest, both had become very reliant on myself or my husband staying with them until they fell asleep. Not that I see anything wrong with that practice, I was just getting tired of holding my little one for more than an hour and trying to sneak away, only to have him wake up an hour later.
My friend was gracious enough to lend me (and I need to give it back!) her copy of The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep. This book looks and reads like a typical children’s book with the addition of hypnosis techniques weaved through the story. I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried it, and laughed a bit at the random instructions to read slowly as well as the nonsensical language. Yet, when I saw my kids’ eyelids getting heavier and heavier, and their bodies relaxing, I knew this really worked.
After reading the book several times, I learned the techniques and began adapting them to my own stories. Now, when we put our kids to bed, I usually close the routine by telling a “sleepy story” inspired by whatever theme they choose. While it doesn’t always end with snoozing children, they are relaxed enough to stay in bed and fall asleep on their own.
Shut down the electronics
Don’t worry this isn’t some lecture about the dangers of screen time. As we speak, my kids are about an hour into Pokemon, and it’s barely past 9:30. I won’t defend or condone how much television or other electronics my kids engage in throughout the day. I’m sure it could be less, but I also know it isn’t that much in the grand scheme of life.
But, I do know that screen time too close to bedtime really does mess with their sleep, which is why I am a stickler for turning things off well before they are in bed.
At the very least, I try to shut down electronics at least a half hour before we start our routine. If you recall, our routine itself is fairly long, so that gives the kids enough time to wind down. However, my ideal nights are those when the afternoons/evenings are screen free.
Getting our kids to bed early and helping them sleep better has benefited everyone in our family. We still have a lot to learn and will keep figuring out what works best.
What are some of your favorite tips to get your kids to bed? Share them below.