Bedtime Tips & Tricks

December 7, 2009

I was honored when Mama Goose herself asked me to take a shot at a Twittermoms contest soliciting blog entries on the subject of Five Bedtime Tips and Tricks.  Ever the overachiever, I’ve got six, straight out of the Phipps Phamily, home to kids who pride themselves on rousing as much rabble as possible around bedtime.   Feel free to add your own in the comments section, especially when it comes to book and music suggestions!  We love to know what other families are up to — we’re just nosy like that.

  1. Make use of your daytime hours.
    We are all about the gross motor play.  There is no shame in running your kids ragged during the day in the hopes that they’ll collapse calmly into their beds at night.  Parks, playgrounds, parties… any positive outlet for energy is a good thing.   On rainy days, get creative.  We spent one particularly desperate day allowing an active wee one to run up and down a long hallway in a mostly-deserted covered strip mall.  Whatever works, we say.
  1. Be big on bath time.
    Bath time is a great pre-bed ritual.  First, it’s an opportunity to reach out for a little herbal help…  there are copious amounts of children’s bath products that incorporate ingredients like lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus – all of which are supposed to soothe and calm little ones.   Second, bath-time provides a great forum for kids to process the day on a developmentally appropriate level.  We keep a large stock of bath toys, from miniature sea animals to empty bottles, all of which work their way into our kids’ bath-time narrative play over the course of the week.  Think of bath-time as journal-writing for the pre-literacy set: an opportunity to constructively process your thoughts and release them before lying down to sleep.
  1. Coziness counts.
    Never underestimate the power of a cute pair of pajamas.  Seriously, in our family, sleepwear is a big deal, and I’m not just saying that because this blog entry was inspired by a contest run by children’s sleepwear company St. Eve and their website.  It’s a lot more exciting to get ready for bed if your favorite outfit happens to be your red monkey footie pajamas.  (Purchased at Mama Goose, of course — I think there’s currently another pair available in the 2T section.  I know a certain 3-year-old who highly recommends them.)  Pajamas also provide a nice opportunity for parental compromise.  You know that ratty old t-shirt that your kid won’t let you throw out?   Let him sleep in it.  Having an all-out war over whether Hannah Montana is allowed in the house?  Get a Hannah nightgown — no one else will have to know.  The same thoughts apply to bed linens… a cushy, cozy comforter can go a long way towards coaxing a kid into bed, and clean skin on soft sheets is an automatic sleep inducer.  If those sheets happen to have The Wiggles on them, we won’t judge.
  1. Books  and music.
    If you choose carefully,  books can be used as literary lullabies.  Any book can be a “bedtime book,” regardless of subject matter, if its words possess a certain calming cadence, rhythm and/or rhyme.  Almost anything by Dr. Seuss fits this description, as do the Madeline books.  Bedtime books are best if they can be read over and over – it’s comforting for children to hear the same words each night, plus, children are less likely to fight sleep mid-story if they are assured that they know the ending.  Bedtime books are also a great opportunity to meet a child’s individual needs.  A child who acts out repeatedly may find comfort in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, knowing that whatever he may do, home is always where someone loves him best of all.  An adopted child may love to hear Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis; a city kid transplanted to Ithaca may find solace in “Harlem Night Song” by Langston Hughes.   Again, whatever works.
    I’m also a big fan of the mix CD, and bedtime is no exception.  At our house, kids generally listen to adult music, to avoid what I’ll call Laurieberkneritis, a phenomenon first discovered while I was working at the Scholastic Toy Store and would find myself unable to sleep because of the medley of children’s tunes playing non-stop in my head.  We have several incarnations of our bedtime CD floating around our house, and you can visit some of the frequently included tracks on ITunes, in Meryl’s Mama Goose Bedtime IMix.
  1. As in all aspects of parenting, choose your battles.
    When it comes to bedtime, parenting books and sites are all about one word – “routine,” and routine is indeed a beautiful thing.  Children need structure, especially around transitions, and bedtime is a great place to provide that.  However, children are also people, and occasionally need to the flexibility that adults do.  Think about how annoyed you would be if someone insisted you were in bed asleep at the exact same time every night.  Things come up.  Sometimes your kids just won’t be tired, and trying to force them to sleep is just setting everyone up for failure. Don’t worry about letting them stay up thirty extra minutes, if it’s going to save you fifteen minutes of fighting.   Don’t feel bad if you let them fall asleep in front of a movie once in a while.  Don’t be afraid to use what my best friends have brilliantly coined “Standard Ops,” that tried-and-true procedure in which you keep your kids out a little late, turn the heat up in the car a little higher than normal, and take a long and winding road home, giving you the chance to just carry your little ones from their carseats to their cribs, kiss them without waking them, and go downstairs to watch some Grey’s Anatomy.  You deserve some downtime.  Seriously, though, remember that you know what works best for you and your kids, and as long as you’re all getting enough sleep, you can’t go wrong.
  1. When all else fails…
    This is my husband’s favorite bedtime technique, though I believe it should be used sparingly, as I’ll explain in a bit.  We’ll call it “modeling good sleeping behavior.”  When you’ve got a kid refusing to go to bed, offer to stay with him until he falls asleep.  Make yourself a cozy sleeping space, lie down, and take a nap.  You know you’re tired, you know you want to, and there’s really very little a child can do when he realizes that not only is it bedtime, but it’s SO bedtime that even the grown-ups are sleeping.  There are risks to overusing this technique, though.  First, if the novelty wears off, you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being poked and prodded awake by your child, who has chosen not accept your modeled behavior.  Second, you could fall victim to Lost Night Syndrome, in which, by falling asleep at 7:30 pm with your three-year-old, you completely flaked on whatever was on your to-do list for that evening, only to awake at 4:00 am, discombobulated and annoyed that you didn’t do whatever it was you wanted to do.  When used appropriately, however, this technique is a tried and true way to get your kids to fall asleep…. We think.  We were napping.  🙂
    -Meryl at the Goose

10 Responses to “Bedtime Tips & Tricks”

  1. Kelly Says:

    I used to “invite” my daughter to climb up and down a ladder in the back yard – supervised of course.

  2. We run at my house too. Back and forth across the yard chasing balls. It helps with sleep.

  3. Meryl Says:

    Here’s a link to the IMix mentioned above:

  4. Meryl Says:

    Okay, that didn’t work. Sorry! I’ll seek technical assistance.

  5. Erika Says:

    I just woke up to “lost night syndrome”! Oh dear!!!! Love the tips.

  6. My wife and I were strong believers in ROUTINE. Our evening routine included “Good Night Moon,” several calming minutes in a rocking chair and a very off tune but nitely rendition of Taps. Yes, Taps. It’s hard to forget everything one learned in Boy Scouts.

    Meryl’s Dad

  7. BikramIsHot Says:

    I remember the first time I was in charge of putting Sophia (val’s little girl) to bed. Before Val left, she wrote out a step by step plan for bedtime. The rest of the night was a free for all but bedtime had a LIST. I was so nervous to mess it up, especially since we had run ourselves ragged, or more to the point, she had run me ragged! In the end, it was simple, Sophia set the timer and turned it off when it buzzed. Then, we walked through the hall to her room, stopping to ring the string of birds with bells, and then a sweetly hummed tune (of my invention) and a kiss good-night. She was sleeping in minutes! Yea, for smart mamas and routine!

  8. […] what is so frustrating. There are a million suggestions out there. Many, such as these, are wonderful. But, for us, nothing […]

  9. Alyssa Says:

    Great list – love the “standard opts”!

    We find ourselves reading the same books and singing the same songs. When he was younger it was Guess How Much I Love You and Hello Lulu. We went through a Where the Wild Things Are phase and now it’s The Little Engine that Could.

    The songs have always been the same: The Big Rock Candy Mountain (original version, with some serious g-rated modifications), Edelweiss and Amazing Grace. We’ve been throwing in a few Christmas songs lately, but once he hears those songs he settles right in and the heavy breathing begins.

    We’ve been loving Mama Goose for years and are so glad to be following your blog!

  10. I use a breathing technique I learned in yoga, called Ujjayi, or “Ocean Breath.” It works wonders. If you can get your little one to snuggle with you (even in a chair), you can rock rock them gently to sleep with nothing more than the sound of your breath. Here’s the article I wrote about it:

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