It’s a biggy. Books and the bedtime routine.
This one is again about removing any fear of books/reading off the agenda, and making kids see reading as a lovely, shared activity. It is now actually full-on, proper advice that the NHS give to get your little one to bed. Known as the 3 b’s (bath, book, bed), find details here : http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/getting-baby-to-sleep.aspx
I can’t stress enough how a bedtime routine keeps everyone sane. Having kids up with you in the evenings when you’ve already had a long day with, or without, them is no fun. What’s great, is that if your routine happens the same way from day one, then the child never knows any different and it won’t complain. It will never become a battle as they just presume the rest of the world lives like this! Also if you’ve had a really busy day at work, then that child knows this sliver of time is all theirs and no one else’s. It often means you can trick them into looking forward to getting into bed…and ultimately giving you that precious evening of peace!
In my house, and I’m not saying that I’ve nailed it every time, the reading part of the routine is the bit we all look forward to. My little one has to be limited to three, as otherwise we’d be there all night. (She knows more books mean less time asleep so I have to be tough.) After her bath/shower she picks them off her bookshelf, she then decides the order and then we are off. (Inside, this can be the point you are thinking ‘we are nearly there!’) Actually, when I say she chooses them, I don’t let her pick pop-up, noisy, lift-the-flap ones as I want her to stay as still as possible, and basically give her the best chance to nod off. Story-books are the way forward. It’s more than likely that the books that are chosen are ones you’ve read a zillion times before but that doesn’t matter. Grin and bear it as often they are the books that make your child get to sleep faster. It’s all about security, knowing what’s coming next, the familiar routine which is so important at bed-time. (As a tip ‘the favourites’ are the ones to read if you are trying to get them down early if you’re going out as they are the ones that will relax them more. Take a look at my book box ideas for a list of our all time favourites if that helps!)
When they are super small, you might feel like it’s a bit pointless to read a story to them as they clearly can’t understand it, but it is so important for them to hear your voice, changes in intonation, and have that bonding time when everything is a bit quieter and calmer. It can take a while to get there, and I remember saying to my Mum when my first one was born that bedtime seemed to take ages, but it’s been well worth it. Both children sleep really well and have always been fine about going to bed.
(The other great tip my Mum taught me was to get the baby to know the difference between light and dark, ie when it’s time to go to sleep! This means setting up the bedrooms BEFORE they go in it. Curtains closed, blinds down etc and nightlights on so that everything looks lovely and cosy. I promise, it makes all the difference. In Summer they then also question less why they are going to to bed in the light…)
As for older children, I still read to my 8 year old and it has only recently crossed my mind that one day, probably pretty soon, that is going to stop. However, at the minute, we are on a magical journey together, sharing books that I loved as a child. It’s been brilliant to re-read them and bless her, there’s a big list I want to get through! These reading sessions are less about getting the child to sleep, and more about chilling out at the end of the day. This is the time that any worries or anxieties can surface, so sometimes the reading time is replaced by just talking, which is just as important.
To sum up, my tips for a straight-forward bed time:
1 – bath etc before your child is too tired and can still enjoy it
2- pj’s on in already darkened but cosy room
3 – choose books
4- read books together, ideally with the child already tucked up in bed
5- Goodnight hugs and SLEEP!
6 – the happy sleep jig and a cold glass of wine…
If anyone has any other tips to add/share then I would love to hear from you!