Here’s how families with little kids make winding down for bed less of a battle.
Evenings can be chaotic for families with young children, making nighttime ripe for meltdowns. Any shortcuts or tricks that make the evening go more smoothly for everyone are certainly welcome in our book.
We asked moms and dads to share their best hacks for simplifying the nighttime routine in their households. Here’s how these parents save time and energy so they have more time left over for important stuff, like connection and relaxation.
Skip the PJs and have the kids wear their “tomorrow clothes” to bed.
“A winning solution to mornings of misery trying to dress my toddler for the day: I put her clothes for the next day on her at night. She woke up ready to go!” — Judy A.
Or lay out pajamas for the week ahead of time.
“We pick our jammies (and clothes) at the beginning of each week and put them in a vertical hanging organizer usually used for shoes. This helps them from digging through clean laundry and making their room a mess each night. It’s one less decision after a day of decision fatigue for both of us!” — Alyssa Miller, dietitian at @nutrition.for.littles
Serve dessert in the bathtub.
“Popsicles, ice cream cones etc. usually in summer time! They loved it. It saved a mess and I got to eat one too without cleaning up constantly. Wash it down and use fresh water to rinse them clean.” — Claire M.
Cultivate sleepy vibes with lavender spray.
“We started using lavender spray on their pillows at bedtime. It’s a soothing scent and apparently there’s some science behind it. By repeating the same scent over and over, it becomes a routine that uses their memory of scent to trigger a feeling of sleepiness.” — Dan Dougherty, illustrator at Beardo Comics
If you have a partner, take turns doing bedtime to give each other a break.
“On days when I spend many hours with the kids in the daytime, my husband would do the bedtime routine with the kids while I go recharge. On days when my husband works late or has night classes, I ensure that our daytime schedule involves a lot of independent play for the kids, so that I can somewhat rest and save my energy for the bedtime routine later.
Find opportunities to save energy and avoid being overstimulated by the end of the day, because I find that the kids sleep easier when us parents are still calm and present during the bedtime routine. Perhaps because they can sense and absorb our energy, and therefore become somewhat calm when we’re calm, falling asleep a little more easily.” — Azalia Suhaimi, artist and poet
Baby-wearing can help you multitask.
“As a mom of three, hacking our nighttime routine is essential. To help get everyone to sleep around the same time, I bathe my toddler first. Then I put her in her PJs, into a front-facing baby carrier and nurse her while I get my two older kids ready for bed and do last-minute tidying. The swaying and movement while in the carrier help my toddler drift off to sleep without a fuss. Additionally, my hands are free, and I can give each of my older kids individualized attention. This allows me to have bonding time with all three kids, makes nighttime a breeze, and allows me more time for myself and my husband.” — Krystal Duhaney, registered nurse, lactation consultant and founder of MilkyMama
Use a visual timer to make the bedtime transition easier.
“We use a visual timer that, as it counts down, reveals a photo of his bed so he can ‘see’ how much time he has left.” — Amanda J.
Let the kids play while you set up for bedtime.
“I give my kids (ages 6 and 3) a 10-minute bedtime warning and let them play for 10 minutes while I set up for our bedtime routine. I used to get the kids involved in choosing the PJs, bedtime book, letting them put the toothpaste on their toothbrush, etc., but found that this led to quite a few hiccups — the kids arguing over which book to read, putting too much toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.
Now I’ve streamlined the process by getting everything set up during their 10-minute playtime! During those 10 minutes, I choose their PJs, choose three books, and from those three books, the kids can choose two books (each child gets to choose one), put the toothpaste on their toothbrush and have a small cup of water in case anyone gets thirsty right before bedtime. (I make sure to only let them have a few sips to avoid bathroom trips overnight!)” — Dr. Stephanie Liu, family medicine doctor and creator behind Life Of Doctor Mom
Recap the day together to connect with your kiddos.
“After pajamas, teeth, reading a book (or five), and water next to the bed, I ask my kids to share their high, low, and in-between of the day. They love having this moment to share individually with me.
The thing about ‘high, low and in-between’ is that it happens in bed, right before sleeping. So the hack is that they have to be all ready and in bed in order to share. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘It’s time for high, low and in-betweens!’ instead of, ‘It’s time for bed!’
Get jazzed for it and tell them you can’t wait to hear what they’re going to share tonight. Bedtime is no longer a time when they have to stop their curious brain, it’s another chance to connect.” — Katie Brunelle, co-host of the podcast “Redefining the Rainbow”
Give them something to look forward to in the morning, too.
“In particularly rough seasons of sleep, we give them something to look forward to when they wake up. Nothing too exciting that will keep them up at night but something simple like a note from Mom and Dad on their door while they’re sleeping. [A] small incentive to help them fall asleep looking forward to that note can help!” — Miller
Whatever you do, be consistent about it.
The absolute best nighttime advice I can give is consistency. Eliminate stress by being super specific with your kids about what the bedtime routine is and then relentlessly stick to it. For example, at our house, we brush teeth, fill up water bottles, pick out a stuffed animal to cuddle with and read two bedtime stories.
Once I was super clear with my kids on this routine, they eventually stopped asking for more: more snacks, more stories, more stuffed animals. They know the boundary and are happy with it. When things evolve, I involve the kids in the process. So they know the new routine and I’m not tempted to give in on a tired night or get frustrated when I’m decision fatigued at the end of a hectic day.” —Gina McMillen, artist and author of “The Mommy Life”
Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
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