How to Create a Bedtime Routine and Get Your Kids to Bed on Time

Jun 16, 2020 | Babies, Blog, Kids, Raising Kids, Routines, Toddlers

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Bedtime is often a fight and and a frustrating experience for everyone involved.

Parents are trying to get everyone settled. Kids are trying to delay the inevitable.

Is there any way to make bedtime easier?

Creating a bedtime routine can help everyone through the process more easily… and give mom and dad some much-needed downtime before bed.

If you feel like you have tried All. The. Things. and nothing seems to be working, then keep reading! We are going to go through how to make bedtime easy at your house.

If bedtime is a struggle for you, it is probably because of one of these four reasons:

  1. The Bedtime Routine is too complicated.
  2. The Bedtime Routine isn’t at a predictable time.
  3. Your Bedtime Routine changes often.
  4. And your Evening Routine doesn’t naturally lead into the Bedtime Routine

This post is going to go walk you through how to solve all of these problems!

How to Create a Predictable Bedtime Routine

1) Keep It Simple

Many parents love the idea of a long, loving bedtime routine where they spend lots of special time with their kids.

While this sounds great in theory, they forget one key component in the process: your kids are tired at bedtime.

It isn’t super fun to hang out with anyone when they are tired, much less a baby, toddler, or child.

Keeping the bedtime routine simple will signal that it is time for bed and allow you to spend special time with your child, without making bedtime overly stimulating or complicated.

When you are thinking about what to include in your routine, consider three things:

  1. Would this work at someone else’s house if we are visiting friends or family?
  2. Would this be practical if the child has had a very busy or stimulating day?
  3. And do I want to do this every. single. night?

Remember that you can always add something in if you happen to have extra time, but most kids are routine junkies and will protest if you take something out of the normal routine.

Start simple and improvise if you happen to be ready for bed 20 minutes early and need something extra to do.

2) Think of the Basics First

When creating your bedtime routine, ask yourself, “What are the absolute basics that I need to do to get the kids into bed?”

For most families this includes:

  1. Put on Pajamas (although some moms swear by dressing their children in the next day’s clothes for easy mornings!)
  2. Brush Teeth
  3. Go Potty and/or put on a Diaper

Some people like to include a bath in their bedtime routine. I don’t include this in our routine because I don’t want it to be an issue if we happen to be traveling or get home late and don’t have time for a bath.

Baths also tend to rial my girls up. They love to streak around the upstairs after they get out of the bath and are usually pretty hyper afterward.

We used to include bath time in my oldest daughter’s bedtime routine (first child!) but we decided to drop it when she started having a hard time settling down before bed.

If the girls need a bath at the end of the day we will do it before supper, or immediately after supper so they have time to calm down. (We now only do baths when they need one, usually once or twice a week.)

3) Now Pick a Special Thing (or Two!)

Now that you have the basics, choose a special thing to do with your child each evening at bedtime.

When choosing a special thing to do with your child at bedtime, remember to keep it simple.

You don’t want to have to play legos for 20 minutes with your child before bed if you are at a friend’s house on vacation.

But it is nice to spend some special time with them right before bedtime.

Some nice things to do are:

  1. Read a book together
  2. Sing a song together
  3. Talk about your day
  4. Give them a back rub (set a timer if they never want you to stop 🙂
  5. Ask them what they are excited about for tomorrow
  6. Say a Prayer
  7. Hugs and Kisses

Don’t forget to take the child’s preferences into account. Miss Claire loves to read books, but Miss Paige is happy to turn the lights off, turn her lectrofan on, and sing several songs together before we leave the room instead of reading.

Some children may love a back rub, and some may not.

When coming up with your special thing, give your child a list of options and let them choose!

How to Choose Your Bedtime

Now that you know your Bedtime Routine, let’s figure out what time it should start.

1) Pick a Bedtime

Decide what time you want to be leaving your child’s room each night. For babies, toddlers, and young kids between 7:00-8:00 pm is recommended for ideal sleep.

If your child has a habit of getting up several times before bed or procrastinating, move bedtime up earlier to account for the extra time.

This is the time when you want to be officially off the clock!

2) Work Backwards

Now think about how long it will take to get your kids ready for bed with your new routine.

If you keep it simple, it should take you less than 30 minutes.

So if you wanted to have your bedtime be at 8:00, you would start your routine at 7:30. But don’t be afraid to start at 7:00 if your child likes to drag out the routine!

3) Stay Consistent

If you are changing your bedtime at all, stay really consistent for the first two weeks. Once everyone is used to the new routine, you can be more flexible. But it’s important to get their bodies into the new rhythm before you add in any flexibility.

4) Write a Checklist

Kids of all ages love checklists, even before they can read!

Make a checklist with everything on your bedtime routine that they can go through with you each night.

Depending on the age of your child, this may help them become much more independent in getting ready for bed.

Grab my Autopilot Workbook for a fun template and checklist!

How to Lead into Bedtime With Your Evening Routine

1) Write Down a List

Figure out everything that you want to do as part of your evening routine with your children.

For most families this will include:

  1. Cooking Dinner
  2. Eating Dinner
  3. Spending Time Together
  4. Bedtime routine

Sometimes families may also need to add in any after-school and extracurricular activities like swimming or music lessons.

2) Time Each Activity

Now for each item that you have on your list, determine how much time you need to complete each activity.

It might look something like this:

  1. Cook Dinner: 30Min
  2. Eat Dinner: 60Min (My kids take FOR-EVER to eat!)
  3. Spend Time Together: 30Min
  4. Bedtime Routine: 30Min

So in this example, the entire evening routine would take 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

3) Work Backwards

Now that we have the time that we want our kids to be in bed (see number 2 above in How to Pick a Bedtime), and we know how long it will take for our evening routine from start to finish, we can set specific times that section of our routine to begin by.

Start with your bedtime (and this is the time that you want your kid to be tucked in and no longer coming out of their room!) and subtract the amount of time needed for the bedtime routine.

So if you want your kids to be in bed at 7:30 and your bedtime routine takes 30 minutes, you need to start your bedtime routine at 7:00.

Now subtract the time from the activity right before bed. In the example above, this would be spending time together, which would have taken 30 minutes.

So to get your bedtime routine started on time, you need to start spending time together as a family at 6:30.

Continue this way through your whole routine.

Now your routine might look like this:

  1. Cook Dinner: 5:00pm
  2. Eat Dinner: 5:30pm
  3. Spend Time Together: 6:30pm
  4. Bedtime Routine 7:00pm
  5. Bedtime: 7:30pm

Now you know what time you need to start cooking dinner in order to get your kids in bed on time!

What to Do If Bedtime is a Struggle

Sometimes even with the best efforts, bedtime can still be a struggle.

Here are some things you can do if you still have a hard time getting your kids to bed.

1) Move it Up

Sometimes bedtime can be hard because kids are tired. And when kids are tired, they are cranky, move slowly, and like to argue about every step of the process.

If you think this might be the case, try moving bedtime up half an hour.

Remember the ideal bedtime for babies and young kids is between 7:00-8:00 pm.

2) Give Them a Nap

Sometimes kids are overtired because they haven’t slept all day. If an early bedtime isn’t working, it’s possible that they need a nap to make sure they aren’t overtired by the time bedtime rolls around.

Most kids will still need naps until they are at least 4 years old.

Even if they don’t fall asleep every single day, continuing to have them lay down will increase the likelihood that they will fall asleep, especially if you keep their room dark during nap time and have a noise machine on.

My five-year-old still naps a minimum of every other day and has quiet rest time in her room on the days that she doesn’t sleep. (But I get to decide if the day is a nap day or not, she can’t just get up and play if she is supposed to be napping. Nap days are in bed, lying still until the time is up at our house. 🙂

3) Make Sure Naps Aren’t too Late

When you give your children a nap, make sure it isn’t too late in the afternoon.

Kids need about 4 hours of awake time after their nap to be able to fall asleep easily at bedtime. So if you want them going to sleep at 7:30, they need to be waking up from their naps at 3:30.

If they nap too late, they won’t be tired enough for bedtime.

4) Wear them out during the day

Around the age of 2, I had to start taking my girls on daily walks or trips to the park before nap time and again after naps.

Now we like to go on bike rides, either as a family, or the girls will ride together back and forth on our sidewalk.

Most kids need a lot of exercise during the day to sleep well at night!

5) Look for any triggers

Some kids are sensitive to certain types of stimulation.

My younger daughter has always been sensitive to being around large groups of people and struggles with bedtime if we have been too busy in a day.

Many children are sensitive to how much media they consume in a day.

Just watch and see if there seems to be a pattern on the days that your children struggle the most with bedtime.

6) Incentivize

Around the time that my oldest daughter was three years old, she learned that she could drag her feet getting ready for bed and delay the inevitable.

When we realized this was becoming a problem, we let her know that bedtime was at 8:00. If she chooses to spend her whole bedtime arguing with us and delaying, then we won’t have time for stories and songs. But if she chooses to get ready quickly without complaining or arguing, then we have extra time to read more stories!

This did the trick for us! She would often get her pajamas on even before we did our family worship because she was so excited to have her special reading time.

7) Switch the Parents

After my second daughter was born, we realized that I was always putting the baby to bed. Mostly because she needed to nurse and it just naturally happened, but also because she was a hard-core mommy’s girl.

But we soon realized that her big sister was missing that mommy-time right before bed too.

What we decided to do was to rotate who was putting whom to bed every other night.

So if I put my younger daughter to bed on Monday, Tuesday I put my oldest to bed, and so on.

This has been a game-changer for us because both girls get special time with each of us throughout the week.

This has also helped Ross and our younger daughter bond more since she was naturally a mommy’s girl and wouldn’t have chosen to have Ross put her to bed. Making it part of the weekly routine has brought them a lot closer together.

I’d love to hear in the comments what your evening routine is like and if you have any other tricks for dealing with difficult bedtimes in your house!

Ready to Start Easily Managing Your Home?

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(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can just grab the Autopilot Workbook and work through it yourself. 🙂

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And

My Simple Weekly Cleaning Schedule: The Routine That Took Me From Overwhelmed to In Control.