Nighttime routines with kids, in any household, are like the wild west. There’s gunslinging, cattle herding, and anarchy.
Dads, you know the drill, don’t you?
You: “Kids, you have 5 minutes until bed!”
Kids: “Noooooooooooo! I’m hungry. I never had a snack. My tummy hurts…”
You: “4 minutes!”
Kids: Noooooooooo! I hate you!”
Your typical bedtime experience might be slightly different than that, but you can probably relate.
Lots of dads struggle to figure out how to get their kids to go to bed while also keeping their sanity. And, if that describes you in any way, this post is for you!
Here are 5 tips for instilling a healthy, low-stress nighttime routine for your kids. Keep in mind, as you read, that the goal is not about creating a schedule for the sake of creating a schedule. A good bedtime routine is for the purpose of setting your kids up for success at school or wherever they are during the day.
Make a list of everything your child needs to do before he or she hits the pillow. Be super specific with this because, if you’re not detailed, you’ll end up missing important things like pull-ups or brushing teeth. And, let’s be honest, forgetting the pull-up can be the difference-maker in whether or not you get a good night’s sleep!
After a long day, nobody wants to think through the kids’ routine, so don’t leave it up to chance.
List everything like this:
- Take a bath
- Put on pull-up
- Put on pajamas
- Drink milk
- Brush teeth
- Read books
Make this list and then write out each item in chronological order. Putting them in order will give you a good idea of how long your bedtime schedule actually needs to be.
Establish the time you want them to go to sleep
This may depend on the age of your children. If you have younger kids, your school night routine might culminate in a 7:30 bedtime. If your children are older, they may go to bed at 8:30. That’s something you’ll have to decide.
The goal here is to pick a time that is going to set your kids up for success the next day. Just like adults, kids are little terrors when they haven’t gotten the sleep their brains and bodies crave.
Here are two tips to help you develop a nighttime schedule for your kids:
- Expect the unexpected. Don’t get so focused on your bedtime that you lose all empathy for your children. This means that if your son or daughter needs to talk about something that happened that day, or one isn’t feeling good, take time to talk with them. And remember, the goal is to set your kids up for success. It’s not all about the schedule.
- Pick a time and stick to it for a while. Get your kid used to the new bedtime before making any changes. It takes time for something to prove its worth.
Work Backwards with Realistic Time Slots
Work backwards from the established bedtime and then plug in the inventory list you’ve already made.
Here’s a good example of one family’s bedtime routine:
- 6:30 – Take a bath
- 6:45 – Put on pull-up
- 6:50 – Put on pajamas
- 7:00 – Drink milk
- 7:10 – Brush teeth
- 7:15 – Read books
- 7:30 – Lights out
It may seem like overkill at first, but the more detailed you can be, the more peace of mind you and your family will have in the middle of the gunslinging and cattle ranching. Why? Because you won’t have to think about every little thing. It’s already in writing!
Establish a Dinner Time
The foundation of a good bedtime routine is choosing a reasonable time for dinner. Of course, this is much easier when your kids are young and don’t have all sorts of extracurricular activities. But for the most part, this is where getting your kids to bed at a decent hour begins.
There are three things to keep in mind when it comes to waking your children up from their slumber:
- Your dinner time is closely related to nap time. If your kids are still taking naps during the day, you’ll need to factor that in as well. If your kids wake up too late, they won’t be tired when you need them to be. Yes, this is probably common sense, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to forget this little piece of the puzzle.
- Be empathetic toward your wife. If she is the one who usually makes dinner for everybody, pull her into this conversation early on. Let her speak into what constitutes a “reasonable” dinner time for your family.
- Don’t let dinner time feel like a time crunch. Allow enough time for connecting, for asking about each other’s day, and for your children to eat at their own speed.
Make the Schedule Visible for Everyone
After you’ve done the work of developing a bedtime routine, make it visible. Place it in an area where it will be seen by the whole family – maybe a shared bathroom or the children’s bedrooms.
To close out this post, here are some tried and tested pieces of advice for your getting your kids to bed at night:
- Remember that nighttime can be hard because you are tired and want to do your own thing. Remain patient.
- Include your children in creation of your bedtime routine. Let them have input in establishing both dinner time and bedtime.
- You must be on same page as your spouse. If you aren’t, your kids will know and the schedule will fail before you even start to use it.
- Maybe consider a more flexible routine on the weekends, but not so flexible that your kids forget what to do the rest of the week.
- “Winding down” is really important. Reading together is a great way to do this. Avoid playing games and using electronics – these are highly stimulating.
- Give warnings about time, but try doing it in a way that is less authoritarian. Ask them questions like, “What comes after putting pajamas on?”
- Be consistent. Kids thrive on routine and consistency – Why do you think your child wants to watch the same episode of Paw Patrol over… and over… and over?
Have you developed your own bedtime routine? We’d love to hear about what has worked and what hasn’t. Let us know!