This post is part of my Big Kid Bedtime Problems series, where certified sleep consultant Hadley Seward helps tired parents sort through their bedtime issues. So far she’s introduced some general bedtime guidelines, shared a few bedtime hacks for parents who find their routines spiraling out of control, and given me a list of solutions for Mazzy and Harlow’s specific bedtime problems.
For today, I asked Hadley to give us advice on how to get our kids to settle down. You know, instead of ramping up before bedtime like my kids.
Most kids go a little crazy before bedtime. Whether it’s because they’re overtired/overstimulated or have a serious case of FOMO, the result is the same: barely controlled chaos.
Transition can be difficult for kids. Going from an action-packed day to lights out can seem frustrating and confusing. Enter the bedtime routine: a series of predictable events to cue the brain that it’s almost time for lights out. Think of it as the nighttime equivalent of the 10-minute warning you give when it’s almost time to leave a fun birthday party.
Many parents think they are supposed to create a despotic routine all on their own, but I always recommend getting your little one’s input. What does your child want the end of the day to look like? What do you want it to look like? The answer to your perfect bedtime routine lies somewhere in between. (If you want some inspiration and/or back-up support, I love the book When It’s Time For Bed, I Have A Plan.)
Your bedtime routine can (and should!) involve some activities designed to help your child’s body and mind wind down. Most parents read their children a book before bed, but if that isn’t enough to get your kids to relax, here are few of my favorite hacks to ensure a peaceful end of the day. (Bonus: All of these hacks work equally well for adults who struggle to fall or stay asleep!)
1) Goodnight journal. Every night, spend a few minutes together writing down memories of the day. Younger kids can draw pictures if they prefer. Some useful prompts: What was your favorite moment of the day? What’s one thing you were grateful for? Did anything worry you today? Moving these thoughts from the brain onto paper can be a powerful tool for kids of all ages. If you’re not the DIY type, I recommend this sleep journal.
2) Coloring books. Spending a few minutes coloring can help to quiet your child’s mind after a busy day. Younger kids might enjoy the more traditional character-based coloring books but older ones will probably prefer adult coloring books like this or this. (This hack also works brilliantly for adults and there are a wide range of irreverent options if mandalas aren’t your thing).
3) Bedtime yoga. Specific yoga poses can help to quiet the body and the mind, preparing your little one for sleep. Pick a few to incorporate into your existing bedtime routine. This book and this article are great guides if your hot yoga poses are too intense for the littles.
4) Guided meditation. For kids who are happy to lie quietly and listen to an audio track, a guided meditation can work wonders. This app made just for kids is great and allows you to choose between different types of meditations. (For older kids, this can also help them to fall back asleep in the middle of the night if they’re facing bouts of insomnia).
5) Limit screen time. I know I’m not telling you anything new, but screen time within 2 hours of bedtime could potentially increase sleep latency (AKA how long it takes your child to fall asleep). As tempting as it is to throw on an episode of Captain Underpants after dinner, you can’t argue with science.
6) Chapter books. Instead of reading a different book every night, try reading a longer chapter book to your bigger kids. A story with continuity broken up over the course of many nights can become something they look forward to at bedtime.
7) Limit crazy time. You know what I’m talking about. If your kids are wrestling, running around like banshees, or any other high-energy nighttime shenanigans… try to put the kibosh on that in favor of any of the above activities. Pick a phrase like “calm and quiet” to signal to them that the time for being crazy people has ended for the day.
A few people in the Remarkably Average Parents facebook group asked about melatonin. If your child takes melatonin (or you’re considering it as an option), please speak with your child’s doctor about whether or not it’s appropriate. Not all side effects of melatonin are known and, since it’s classified by the FDA as a food supplement, it’s not subject to the strict regulatory testing and oversight that medications are. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk unless your child’s doctor recommends it.