Guest contributor Rachel Scherer, is sharing her tips on how to end the bedtime battle and get your kids to sleep well with bedtime routines and checklists! Creating routines is a perfect example of skills called executive functioning (or life skills). These are areas that you can instill in your child to help give them the tools they need to organize, stay productive, and become helpful humans once they get out into the real world. You can find all my life skills posts here.
Since kids thrive from routine, it’s important to keep kids’ bedtime routines simple, predictable, and easy to sustain for the whole family so everyone can sleep well. To polish up some routines in my own house, I followed the advice from Amy McCready, a best selling author in the field of positive parenting. Here are some tips for making a bedtime routine, that I have adapted from her book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling.
Brainstorm WITH Your Child
Involving your child in the process will make them feel important, and in turn, more likely to follow through. When I sat down with my 4-year-old son to brainstorm bedtime steps, I guided him with thoughts and questions. For instance:
- I’m wondering what steps should be at the beginning of your bedtime routine.
- Do you have any ideas?
- Do you want to start with pajamas or brushing your teeth?
- What kinds of pictures would help you remember so you don’t need me to remind you?
Sequence, Assess, and Edit
Next, sequence the steps you brainstormed together. I make sure to periodically check in with my son and ask how the plan is going. I ask what parts are going well and if there would be anything he would change. The best part is that it’s his choice to make a change. Trial and error. The greatest life lesson, right?! Like me, you may feel the need to suggest something. Without taking the control away, all you have to do is set up the right questions. It will lead them to believe it was their idea!
Amy McCready says kids are hardwired to look for control and positive power in their lives. Creating kids’ bedtime routines together is a great way to avoid power struggles and “fill their power bucket,” as she calls it! Like I said, it’s not always easy to let some of my control go, but sharing the power has shown me to have confidence in my son. It’s so worth it to watch his independence grow!
Document the Routine
I use my computer to create picture steps in chart form. The finished product, which can be modified over time, goes in a plastic page protector so we can use a dry erase marker to cross off each step. I use blue painters tape to post it to a wall in his bedroom. This is another opportunity to fill that power bucket! Ask your child where in the bedroom to post it or how they want it displayed.
Role-Play and Practice
When approaching role-play, my teacher voice chimes in saying, “I do, we do, you do.”
So, first, you guessed it, “I do.” I model the bedtime routine for my son. I channel his adorable self and actually pretend as if I were him. This includes every detail, even putting my head on the pillow to say, “I love you infinity!” This leaves no room for guessing. Have fun with this! Show some personality and your child will appreciate the laughter and fun that this step brings!
So the next step is the “We do,” when you will coach your child through the routine. Prompt your child by asking questions like “what is the first thing we do?” and “what comes next?”
Lastly, is the “You do.” Your child will proudly show you each step independently.
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No More Reminding and Repeating
In her book, Amy McCready emphasizes that after training for a routine, there’s no reminding and repeating. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. As parents, we ALL often feel like we’re a broken record! She explains, though, that reminding and repeating will only send your kid the message that they don’t have to remember on their own. Since I don’t want to unintentionally send that message, I keep Amy’s advice in mind. I tell my son that I’m confident he is now capable of handling his own routine and make sure to say that I will no longer be reminding him of any steps. I feel like this step actually takes some pressure off of me as the parent. I can just let the routine work itself.
There may be times you need to simply point to the chart. Use that at the visual reminder of all the steps your child has to take before bedtime.
Set Your Policy
My son knows that if the routine includes too much “dawdling,” as Amy McCready calls it, we will miss book time that night. Some people may be opposed to taking away book time, but if the policy is followed, it will only happen on occasion. Use a policy that will work best for your family.
Practice the Wrong Way
It is important to be crystal clear about your expectations. Ask your child to repeat back to you what you’ve decided your bedtime policy is. I like to do one more role-play here, but this time, my son shows me the “wrong way” to do his routine! You know your kid can put on a show! I will also practice out loud what he will hear me say if (Let’s face it…WHEN!) the policy is not followed, so he is not caught off guard.
When the policy is broken, Amy McCready says to act calm and unaffected. She says to “empathize and appreciate” by calmly saying something like, “I see you chose to miss book time. I’m so sorry you’re feeling mad/frustrated, but that’s the policy. I know you’ll remember for next time.” (These words are familiar, as they were practiced during the previous role-play steps!) I will offer hugs and try to move on.
I won’t pretend that following through is easy. It isn’t! We are all human and can get off track with our kids’ bedtime routines. When this happens to me, I find it comforting I have a plan we can both hit refresh on together. Another great life lesson for kids to be a part of!
Ready, set, sleep well!
Let your child know the first day of your new system and begin! Remember that when it comes to kids’ bedtime routines, there is no one size fits all. Amy McCready’s book has inspired various routines and policies in my own house, but I also adapt things, and make it realistic for my family. I hope you can do the same and mold some of these tips to fit your own family’s needs!
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