From the time we brought home our kids from the hospital, we’ve made sleep our number one priority, so I thought it could be fun to show you what our nighttime routine looks like. I always love reading about other families’ routines, so here’s a little peek into ours!
(These photos are not from an actual bedtime — and actually Joey just moved into her big girl bed over the weekend, eek! She’s doing awesome with it and we’ll have pictures soon.)
We have two kids, Oliver, about 21 months old, and Joanna, 3. When Joey was brand new and we were so stressed about if we’d EVER sleep again, I remember sitting in her room in the middle of the night, begging her to please fall asleep and googling what in the world we were supposed to do to get her to just sleep already… Every single thing I read said “Routine, Routine, Routine.” And it worked! As soon as we started a very strict routine with each of them, they both started sleeping through the night almost right away by eight weeks old.
The routine has changed since they were newborns (we can make eye contact now!), but we still try to stick to a pretty consistent bedtime process with both of them. We start getting them ready for bed by 7 p.m. every night, preferably a little bit earlier if we can. It’s up the stairs, straight to the bathroom for teeth brushing, and maybe getting Joey to go potty if we’re lucky. We don’t have time to do baths every night (how do other families do that?!), so we just have to make sure to get dinner done early on nights when they really need a bath, or most often I give them baths during the day when I can, sometimes before their afternoon naps. Both kids take a 2-3 hour afternoon nap, so most days they wake up from their naps at around 4:30/5 and then are back in bed at 7:30. I don’t know why it works but it does!
After their teeth are brushed, Andy and I divide and conquer. We try to switch kids every other night or so when he’s home. One or two nights a week Andy exercises in the evening and misses bedtimes. On those days I follow the same routine, but just take care of Olly first.
The hardest part is that both kids always want me to put them to sleep. It’s not that they don’t like their dad, of course, but they’re just SUPER attached to me. I think there’s some sort of power thing, wanting to be the kid who “gets” mom that night, I don’t know. It’s kind of frustrating and it doesn’t make Andy feel real great about himself as much as he knows not to take it personally. Olly often has a complete meltdown when he realizes that dad is putting him to bed — but only until he can’t see me anymore and then he’s totally happy (and, btw, also apparently better behaved than when I put him to bed and he will not sit still to listen to a story!). Even though the kids complain, we think it’s super important that Andy and I share the bedtime duties so that the kids have one-on-one time with each of us a few times a week.
So we take the kids to their separate rooms, change their diapers, put on their jammies, and then let them pick two stories to read. We have been reading the illustrated version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with Joey for the last few weeks and she seems to really like it, which is pretty much the pinnacle of parenting as far as Andy and I are concerned!! Olly has a few favorites that he wants to read over and over and over, like “All The World,” but limiting it to two stories is a way for him to recognize when it’s time to get in bed.
As I mentioned, Olly is in a phase where he doesn’t sit still when I’m reading to him. He wants to sit on the ottoman in his room instead of on my lap (because he’s such a big boy) and he basically is on and off it every five seconds — which he apparently does NOT do with Andy and I’m jealous. So to make sure that’s he’s relaxed and calm before I put in him in bed, after I finish stories, I’ll ask Olly if he wants to sing a song and he’ll get up on my lap, lean back into me, put his thumb in his mouth and totally zone out while I (badly) sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” I don’t know why that song, but it’s just always the song I’ve sung (badly) to the kids.
After stories and a song, we put Olly into his crib, tuck him in with his blanket, and then he asks me (or Andy) to kiss each of his stuffed animal friends — Boo Boo the polar bear, Pup the dog, Leo the turtle and Smiley the shark. Then I’ll turn on his sound machine, turn off the light and close the door behind me.
With Joey, we read either a couple of picture books or a few pages of Harry Potter with her in her bed. By the time Joey’s stories are finished, whoever is taking care of Olly is usually done, and Joey will run to get mom or dad for goodnight kisses. I usually go first, even when Andy is the one who read to her, so I tuck her into bed and give her kisses if she wants them.
We have strong opinions about never forcing our kids to kiss or hug if they don’t want to, so we always ask her if she wants kisses or hugs or just a high five or nothing. She almost always chooses, as she says, “a hug and a kiss, a hug and a kiss, a hug and a kiss,” which is a line from one of her books “How to Babysit a Grandpa.” Then Andy will give her kisses and hugs if she wants, and he always makes a point of talking to her a little bit about her day. Then we make sure her nightlight is on, her sound machine is on, and door closed.
Joey usually immediately gets back out of bed as soon as we leave and plays or “reads” quietly in her room for as much as an hour before she goes back to bed to sleep. The only toys we allow in her room are stuffed animals and books, so there’s nothing noisy or overstimulating. We don’t mind if she wants to stay up for a bit if she’s quiet, but if we hear her jumping or running or moving furniture, we will go tell her it’s time to get in bed, especially since Olly’s room is right next door to hers.
Both kids are usually in bed (or at least in their rooms) by 7:30/7:45 p.m., and Andy and I have the rest of the night to ourselves! You know, so we can clean the kitchen and then sit on the couch watching TV, working on the computer (me) and playing video games (him).
We’ve always put a HUGE priority on our kids’ sleep because we think having some time to ourselves — even if it’s just to zone out on the couch — is absolutely essential to our ability to be a good parent again the next day. We also know it’s better for them. Sometimes it’s super tempting to let them stay up much later, when we see other neighborhood kids out playing late, but we know that it would be a disservice to them (and us) in the long run. When bedtime is late because we went out to dinner or something, they’re so overtired they have a much harder time falling asleep, usually end up in a cycle of temper tantrums, and it’s stressful for everyone. Plus, we have learned that when they go to bed earlier, they often sleep longer and are more well-rested and way better behaved the next day. They usually sleep until anytime from 7-8 in the morning.
So this is what works for our kids and our family. Obviously everyone’s family is different and what works for us might not work for someone else. I’d love to hear about your bedtime routine if you have similarly aged kids or if you’ve found something different that works for you!