Creating Bedtime Routines for Younger Kids
Getting kids to bed earlier can be done. I have a confession to make. When our oldest two kids were little (1 and 2 years old) we did not have a set bedtime for them. We let them stay up until they were tired and then got them ready for bed. My husband and I were tired by then, too, and we had to choose to stay up even later to have some time alone or go the sleep so we would be rested for the next day.
Eventually, as you can imagine, this stopped working for us. Not only were we tired, but we needed to set better boundaries for our kids. We were the parents, after all!
We made a plan to change. Here I will share with you what we did to get the kids into a bedtime routine and to sleep earlier in the evening so we could set some better boundaries for them and also have some time together each night.
Create and implement a bedtime routine
The first thing we did was to create a bedtime routine. We had a pseudo routine already, but we did not always do the same routine tasks each night or follow the same order when we did do them.
We began by figuring out what tasks we wanted to have in the routine and in what order we should have them. In this way, the kids would know what to expect and would have a predictable, regular routine each night.
For us, family prayer, bedtime stories, cleaning up toys, baths and getting dressed, and teeth brushing made the list. We decided to start with cleaning up toys, then teeth care, then baths and getting dressed, followed by family prayers and then bedtime stories.
We prayed together and read to them in their room so they were that much closer to their beds. They would sit on our laps or lay in bed as we prayed and read together.
Even though our kids did not have a set bedtime yet, they got tired around the same time each night. We estimated how long the bedtime routine would take and we started the routine so they would be in bed at the time they usually went to bed.
Our kids usually fell asleep by 10:00. We estimated that the bedtime routine we created would take about an hour if we took our time. However, we did not want to rush this new routine; we wanted to make sure it was fun that we accomplished it at a relaxed pace so our kids could adjust more easily to it. We started the routine at 9:00 so they would be in bed by 10:00.
The kids responded well to this new, regular routine. Each night they knew what to expect and they knew what was expected of them.
After beginning the bedtime routine at 9:00 for a few days, we started the bedtime routine one half-hour earlier for two or three nights. Every few days we started the bedtime routine one half-hour earlier until we reached our target time, which was to begin the routine at 7:00.
We were amazed at the results! Our kids fell asleep at each new time more easily than we thought they would. We thought that they would stay awake for a while once we started adjusting the time to be earlier, but that was not the case. We were also pleased that they did not whine or grumble about going to bed or plead to stay up later.
Having a routine in place was the key to our success; our kids knew what to expect and knew what was expected of them. Moving the bedtime routine up earlier incrementally got us to our targeted bedtime time without any major conflicts with our kids.
Keeping up with the bedtime routine every day was not too much of a struggle for us at first. My husband and I were pleased with the results. We enjoyed having a regular routine with our kids and having time to ourselves as well.
As time went on, we were tempted to shortcut the routine sometimes or let our kids stay up later because we were feeling lazy about beginning the bedtime routine. Occasionally, we did do these things, but our initial success in establishing and maintaining the bedtime routine for our kids motivated us to keep to the routine going each night. We did not want to go back to square one and start all over again!
Time for action
Getting your kids to bed at a decent time is possible. Establishing routines that work for your family and maintaining them consistently are key elements to success. Kids like to know what to expect and what is expected of them. They feel safe in an environment where they know what to expect. Having a predictable routine is something familiar our kids can count on and look forward to each day.
Take some time to plan a bedtime routine that will work for your family and put it into place. Once a routine is in place and working well, it is easier to maintain it. When you are tempted to slack off, remember why you began the routine and how it benefits your kids and you. Persevere. You can do it. Just take one day at a time.