Monday, October 28, 2013

Bedtime Routine: Tips for Success

We have a joke in our house that when the 9:00 hour comes around "happy mommy" quickly starts to fade and her grumpy side starts to come out.  I don't know about you, but by 9:00 my energy and patience is spent (heck, some nights I feel that way by 6:00, who are we kidding!).  If the kids are not in bed and I don't have time to relax and get myself to bed something ugly might happen!

One thing that I have heard Dr. Bailey say over and over again is, "It's not about just getting them in bed or getting them out the door.  It's about so much more than that!"  Many families struggle with bedtime.  It is no fun to have your final interaction with you child for the day capped off by screaming and crying.  We want to put our children in bed filled with love and ready for a good night's sleep.   There are some steps you can take to help you AND your children have a more pleasant bedtime!

Tips for Success at Bedtime:

1. Set a bedtime and stick to it.  As most people know, the body develops natural rhythms and if you get used to going to bed at the same time each night, it will help make the whole process easier.  It's like pre-programming your body for success (the same is true for waking up).  So, even on the weekend, try to stick pretty close to the same bedtime.

2. Turn off the TV and other techy devices at least an hour before bed.  I know there are many people who actually use the TV to help them fall asleep, but the quality of the sleep you get will be so much better if you tune out instead of tuning in!  There is lots of research that will provide the proof for this one!  Use the time before bed to read, play a quiet game like cards or memory, and other fun bedtime rituals.

3. Break down the steps in and decide on your expectations.  What do you want your child to do independently?  Do they have the skills to put toothpaste on the toothbrush all by themselves without making a big mess?  Make sure that you have age-appropriate expectations for your child.  If they are missing skills necessary to complete a task, make the time to teach them or adapt your expectations. 

4. Keep the bedtime routine simple.  Depending on the age and ability of your child, decide how many steps you think they are capable of completing.  Most young children need between 3-5 steps in a routine.  Maximum number of steps would be 7.  Our goal is to help them be successful, so keep it short and direct.

5.  The brain is pattern-seeking, so make sure you create helpful patterns.  If you lay with your child every night or rock them to sleep, be prepared to continue doing that for a very long time.  If you and your child enjoy this time together and it is not a problem for either of you, then by all means continue!  If, on the other hand, you are only doing this out of desperation because it is the only way your child will fall asleep, you are in luck!  Once you begin following these tips for success, you will see that your child is learning the skills necessary to calm themselves and be better prepared to fall asleep on their own.

6.  Make sure you take time to connect.  If you find that your child continues to get back up out of bed after you have tucked them in consider adding a connecting ritual to your bedtime routine.  Connections on the outside with other people build neural connections inside the brain.  Whether you have a prayer you say, song you sing, or other connecting ritual you enjoy, make sure you do it every night.  We are really good at this when our children are young, but sometimes forget how important it is as they grow older.  My children and I have a handshake with a little chant that we say at bedtime.  We created it about 7 years ago and the beauty of it is that even when I am away from home, we can do it over the phone and it has the same connecting effects as if we were in the same room.  For more ideas of how to connect with your children see Dr. Bailey's book "I Love You Rituals".

7.  Add pictures to your routine and practice!  Once you have decided on the steps in your routine make sure you add pictures and practice the routine and steps with your children.  If you want them to put the toothpaste back in the drawer when they are done using it, make sure you practice that with them.  If you want them to pick up their toys before they go to bed, make sure you add a picture of that and practice it with them.  If you want them to flush the potty when they are done...practice! 

8. Celebrate success!  Give your children lots of opportunities to be successful and celebrate their success!  Even if they only do one step independently--CELEBRATE!  When they put their pajamas on (even if they only put one leg in by themselves) celebrate it!  You could say something like, "You put your leg in your pajamas, just like this.  Way to go!!!  You did it!!!"  Continue to encourage your child along the way and focus on what you WANT them TO DO and then CELEBRATE!

9. Believe in yourself and believe in your kids!  Like I said before, this is about so much more than just getting the kids to bed.  It is about teaching them life skills and how to be problem solvers and regulate their behavior.  All behavior has a purpose.  Are they overly tired, scared, hungry, or in need of more structure or connection?   What is their behavior trying to tell you?

10.  Become the person you want your child to be.  I think some of our biggest frustrations as parents come out of our own lack of self-discipline.  I know that bedtime at my house always goes better when I follow the steps listed above, but there are nights that I lack the discipline to follow through and that is when it all falls apart.  In order to have the discipline I need to be able to be a model for my children, I have to take care of myself first.  That means I have to keep an eye on the clock, stay away from the computer myself, and be present with my children so that I can focus on the task at hand.  Make sure that you set a good example for your children by being consistent and doing what it takes to set yourself up for success with bedtime too!

I recently added some printable bedtime routine checklists and books to my Teacher Pay Teachers store.  Here are some pictures of what they might look like. 

Click the link for each of the following:

Bedtime Routine Checklist
Bedtime Routine Checklist (Horizontal)
Bedtime Routine Book