Practical Dad

Dads and the Bedtime Routine

Kids do well when there's a standard routine for them to follow.  It provides a sense of comfort, especially when things are tense or rocky, and an anchor to which they can cling.  But a good routine has certain elements in common regardless of the child and his or her personality and age.

The rationale of the bedtime routine is that it provides the child an opportunity to calm down and relax after the course of a day.  They're usually tired and the energy levels are lower after a busy day, but they can still become hyper and overly stimulated if the situation isn't managed properly.  And an overly stimulated, tired child is a classic recipe for an evening meltdown.  So what should you remember?

  • Active play of any kind will tend to stimulate a child.  This includes chase/tag, wrestling and even playing in the bathtub.
  • Kids need to learn to remember things and a quiet talk about their day helps train their memory to what occurred.  It's common to ask a small child what he - or she - did in a day and get a thousand yard stare.  It's not being disobedient as much as simply not remembering and walking them through the day's events will help train their memory for when they're older. 
  • Early evening is not the time for additional snacks that contain sugar or any other kind of stimulants.  Any snack should be relatively bland or naturally sweet and devoid of sweeteners.  This ban also includes fruit juices, which typically contain significant amounts of high fructose corn syrup or sugar.
  • Most video games, especially action games, will stimulate the child so that the bedtime is damaged.  The child won't want to stop the game and when they do, it will take additional time to relax and then fall asleep.

The key is to provide a calm environment.

So what might a bedtime routine look like?

  1. After finishing dinner, the child can have a bath.  Smaller kids get messier at dinner and an earlier bath simply avoids any additional mess.  The child also has an opportunity for wet hair to dry before bedtime - avoiding the morning bedhead - and if the bath gets boisterous, there's still an opportunity to calm down before hitting the sheets.  And yes, bathtime was a rambunctious affair in my house.
  2. After the bath, you - and the child when older - can quickly pick up their room after putting on the pajamas.  This way, the day doesn't actually end with a chore.
  3. When the pajamas are on and the room is picked up, he can watch some quiet television or play a game with you.  As much as I enjoyed Sesame Street, I found that the pace was just a little too quick for the time just before bedtime.  Again, this is an opportunity to play an easy card or board game.
  4. Take your child up to bed and curl up for a story or for some easy conversation. 
  5. Finish the routine with whatever customs you deem appropriate.  Prayer or final thoughts for the day can be done before the lights are out.
  6. Remember that kids crave physical contact.  They'll someday grow up and avoid the little affections that they love when little.  It's also important if there's some anger or tension at bedtime, and yes, that's liable to happen.  Even if you're ticked off or frustrated, try to find it within yourself to provide that affection so that they don't think that they aren't loved because of something that they did.  I was surprised to find that children will believe that Daddy doesn't love them anymore because of their behavior.  I also felt tremendously guilty.
  7. After they're in bed, take a few minutes to hang around upstairs to assure that they're settled.  A child who gets out of bed and walks into a lit area is prone to a bit of additional stimulation, so hanging around can avoid that situation.

You're liable to find that the early evening television is ruined because of the bedtime ritual and I've found that some shows were almost off of the air before I was able to even see them.  But you can always catch the shows on cable, which is something that you'll never be able to do with a child's bedtime. 

Enjoy it while you can.

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