For most families, bedtime is a struggle. Our kids’ desires--a sip of water, one more story--compete with our attempts to get them to bed (and stay there).
In the evening, I’m usually running on fumes as my kids are somehow revving up. Simple tasks like brushing their teeth, getting pajamas on, and a glass of water can turn into a drama that leaves us all frustrated and annoyed. Not exactly ideal conditions for sleep!
Sleep problems are one of the most common concerns reported to pediatricians. The solution they most frequently recommend? A consistent nightly bedtime routine.
But what if bedtime routines could do more than just help kids sleep? In a few simple steps, evening routines can actually provide us with a deep connection to ourselves and our kids, and even strengthen a growth mindset.
Here are 5 ways to create a peaceful and positive bedtime experience, that nurtures both you and your kids.
1. Start with Yourself
Before you tackle the bedtime routine, hit pause. This might be the first time you’ve slowed down today. If so, the transition from day to night is the perfect opportunity!
When I pause, I often notice a sense of urgency to get bedtime over with so I can finally relax and have some time to myself. Once I know this, I can consciously choose to begin the evening routine with a different mindset, one of calm presence instead of rushing.
A simple way to practice pausing is the “3 Center Check-In.” Developed by mindfulness teacher and leadership coach Pamela Weiss, this process is about developing a relationship with your “whole self” (mind, feelings, and body).
To begin, Weiss suggests closing your eyes and taking a few deep, full breaths. Next, simply turn your attention inward like a beam of light and focus on each of these 3 areas:
- Head-What am I thinking? What am I aware of in my mind? Notice the words or voices and just allow whatever is there.
- Heart-What am I feeling? What am I aware of in my heart? Imagine you can breathe in and out of your heart.
- Body-What am I sensing? What sensations am I aware of in my body? Notice what’s happening in your body now.
Once you’ve finished checking in, let your eyes open and reorient to the room. Congratulations! You’ve just taken some much-deserved time for yourself and likely shifted your mindset too.
2. Create a Soothing Atmosphere
This step involves preparing your environment for sleeping.
Environmental rituals generally change the ambience of the home to give the child conscious or unconscious cues that sleep time is coming.
- Matthew Utley, parenting writer
Consider physical signals you can easily send, like lowering the lights, putting away electronics for the night, or lighting candles. In fact, anything you can do to decrease unnatural lighting will help.
While our sense of sight is the most important environmental factor affecting sleep, consider engaging all five of your child’s senses for a greater impact:
- Sight: dimmed lights, candles, reading a growth mindset illustrated story
- Touch: a warm bath, rubbing back, snuggling
- Smell: lotions, diffusers, essential oil, lavender shampoo
- Sound: soothing music, white noise, speaking in quiet voices, lullabies
- Taste: a mindful sip of cool water, notice the taste and sensation of toothpaste
Together, these environmental changes send a powerful message that it’s time for rest.
Looking for the perfect music playlists? We’ve got you covered! Check out our
3. Connect through Rituals
We already know the incredible benefits associated with family routines and rituals--improved relationships, reduced stress, and even social skills. Routines also provide predictability, key for making kids feel safe and ready for bed.
Everyone needs a series of predictable steps they take every night to help them sleep.
- Jill Spivack, sleep specialist
Like many homes, our ritual starts with bathtime, toothbrushing, and a few stories. We finish up with the Gratitude Body Scan, a favorite activity that combines mindfulness and gratitude. As I tuck the girls in, we focus on each body part from head to foot, bringing attention and thankfulness to our bodies for the hard work they do for us.
Here are some other ideas to sprinkle in:
- Say 3 things you love about each other (“What I love about you is…”) and name a specific quality.
- Reflect on what went well today (“What is one good thing that happened today?”) or choose 1-2 Cards from Three Seas Conversation Cards to discuss.
- Say goodnight to each other, the moon and stars, and those you both love. We like to list a few friends and family members who are also safe and cozy in their beds.
- Gratitude Body Scan (see above)
Following a consistent series of rituals at bedtime will send the “go to sleep” signals kids rely on while strengthening your bond.
4. Focus on Positives
As parents, how we think and talk about our kiddos at bedtime impacts their behaviors. What kind of mindset do we want to reflect? Check out “How to Teach Growth Mindset to Kids” for a detailed explanation of growth and fixed mindsets.
Parenting coach Avital Schreiber Levy describes how her unconscious beliefs negatively impacted her son’s sleep. Describing him (and herself) as a “difficult sleeper” made it difficult to see his abilities.
When Schreiber Levy “began to think of him as someone who knows his own body, and who will rest it when it needs rest,” both of their evenings improved.
To shift toward a growth mindset, make a list of positive bedtime affirmations with your kids. They might include:
- “My body knows just how to get comfortable and rest.”
- “The light is low and perfect, just how I like it.”
- “I feel relaxed in my body”
- “I have my sleeping music on.”
- “I sleep well, and wake up feeling rested and ready for my day.”
- “I grow my brain every time I sleep!”
Kids can even make a Treasure Box full of sleepy-time affirmations. For this activity, check out My Mighty Treasure Coins in the Self-Esteem and Confidence Kit. Simply buy (or build) a small wooden treasure box to paint or decorate. Then make coins out of thick cardstock or cardboard that are big enough to write on. Have them write their favorite affirmations, and simply choose one before bed to read and reflect on.
5. Let Them “Own” the Routine
There’s no prescription for the perfect bedtime routine. And most likely, your family already has some good habits.
Together, talk about what already works well, and encourage your kids’ participation by explaining “quality time” with each child happens only when everyone follows the routine. When kids take ownership of this step, the likelihood of their resisting bedtime (and you) greatly decreases.
Here are some ways kids can take control:
- Create a “checklist” of things that help them sleep--stuffed animal, comfortable room temperature, a nightlight
- Make choices from limited options (which pajamas, who would like to bathe first, select 3 books to read)
- Give specifics, like the exact number of books/songs/kisses they want (this will also discourage those “one more story” requests)
- Turn on soothing music and choose a song
- “Pick a dream” to have tonight, or talk about their favorite ways to feel calm
A final recommendation is as simple as it is effective: a “sleep card” good for one free pass out of bed.
Bedtime resistance is about escaping that experience of bedtime that is essentially like a giant time out—the day is over, we're done playing and we're hanging out in a dark room. With the pass, children have a way to escape that in a way that's acceptable.
- Connie Schnoes, psychologist
With the pass, kids know they can leave their room if they truly need to, and parents can relax knowing the struggle is over.