My Family Care asks Katy: Bedtime can be a blessing or a curse... is it possible to achieve peace and tranquillity, or are you destined to maintain battle stations in the years ahead? What advice can you offer parents about how to achieve a more relaxed bedtime?
Bedtime stirs up many emotions
A looming bedtime can mean a host of different emotions to parents and carers - it can be a part of the day to look forward to, or one to dread.
In my experience as both a nanny and a mother, I've had my share of bedtimes - some delightful, others riddled with anxiety.
I've often wondered: why does this happen? Is the problem with the routine or lack thereof, or is it directly related to the events of the day? I believe it's possible to achieve peace and tranquillity at bedtime with the right mix of pre-planning and leaving room for error.
Bedtime should start after dinner
The bedtime routine needs to start at the end of teatime and run all the way till lights out! While children need routines and guidance from us, they don't have to be little robots who are told what to say or do all the time. A familiar routine every night leads to calmer children and is the key to a relaxed bedtime for all.
Instilling a bedtime routine from a young age - even as young as a newborn - is a good place start. While we call it a 'routine', it needs to be flexible enough that it can be maintained in many different situations - whether you are on holiday, visiting friends and family or there's a special event. As long as the elements of the routine remain the same, the time and place can change.
A successful bedtime routine
In my career and now as a mother, I have determined that the elements required for a successful bedtime are:
- Tea time
- Let-off-steam time
- Bath time
- Quiet time - i.e. dimmed lighting whilst reading stories; engaging with your child and discussing how the day was
- Last trip to the toilet and filling a water glass
- A sign off - whether this is an expression, one last kiss, or turning off the lights.
Ensure the child is aware of each step in the routine so that they don't feel like they are being rushed into bed. I have found that reminding them that bedtime is approaching is another trick that works. Giving them a 10, 5 and 2 minute reminder before lights out means it doesn't sneak up on them.
We have a little saying that we repeat every night: "Night night, sleep tight, love you lots and lots!" This is a signal to my children that the day is over and it's time to enter the land of nod.
Diet and nutrition are key
I've also found that thinking about the types of food eaten before bedtime and what their potentially negative effects can be helps to limit possible havoc. We all do it; we have friends over for a play date, dole out little chocolate cakes for pudding, and twenty minutes later we have screaming, giddy children on a massive sugar rush ten minutes before we expect them to be ready for bed and fast asleep. We all know this isn't going to happen and it's our own fault.
Yes, children deserve these little treats, but we can't expect them to behave like little cherubs if we haven't considered the consequences! I know that ice cream turns my daughter into an hysterical, laughing three year old so I avoid this treat before bedtime; this doesn't mean she can't have ice cream, she just gets it at lunchtime or when we've gone on a trip to the seaside.
Allow room for error
I've also learned to add an extra 20 minutes to my bedtime routine - if I think it will take 60 minutes, I give myself 80 minutes. This means I feel more relaxed and, if all goes to plan, I get to have a little extra snuggle time and read an extra story... I'm calm and they get a treat!
It's easy to achieve a peaceful and enjoyable bedtime with our little ones, whatever their age, but we have to think about how we would feel if we were in their shoes. Think about which obstacles might get in the way of a smooth bedtime routine: too many stimuli, feeling rushed, sugar highs and lows, not being able to find your favourite cuddly toy, discovering all your PJs are in the wash. Avoiding these obstacles is one way to prevent battles.
Keep children engaged
Engage them in the routine; make it their job to lay out their PJs before a bath (this means if there are none there, you've got time to sort out a solution before tears and tantrums ensue) or let them put toothpaste on their own brush.
Make bedtime a fun and relaxed event in the family's day - it's a wonderful time to share with each other.
Katy Hayden, Nanny of two, Mother of one