Bedtime Routines

Yesterday a dear friend asked my advice on managing her tired 10 year-old who gets “tanky” – tired and cranky.  I gave her some quick on-the-spot advice and will elaborate more below, but I just have to take a second to enjoy this landmark event.  I’ve been saying for years and years whenever people ask me what I plan to do when my kids are all in school or ask what aspect of psychology I plan to return to (clinical, research, teaching, consulting), that one day I want to write a book on parenting and psychology and later parlay that into a little consulting career for parents of young children.  People often ask me parenting questions and I’ve enjoyed answering them individually and now that I’ve got this blog up and running, it’s the first step to sharing my tips with a larger audience.  Exciting stuff!

Back to the topic at hand: What to do with a tired child.  This topic is so large I’m going to initially divide it into 4 posts (Bedtime Routine, Bed Time, Sleep Hygiene, and Bedtime Sneakiness) with much more to come on sleep training after that.  As a quick preface to bedtime routines, I must highlight the fact that well-rested kids and well-rested parents are primed for success.  When either party gets tired, parent-child interactions suffer.  Sleep is incredibly important.

Now on to routines: I cannot stress enough the importance of routine in your child’s life.  Children thrive on consistency and predictability; it helps them to navigate through all the changes they are experiencing physically and the new learning experiences they encounter daily.  I will talk more about daily routines in future posts.  Today we’ll focus on bedtime which is arguably the most important part of those routines.  Bedtime routines are not just for kids; they’re an important for adults too and are part of our next psychology lesson: Sleep Hygiene.  This refers not just to how cleanly you are for bed but how your entire sleep routine and environment are set-up and whether they’re conducive with getting a good night’s sleep.  Bedtime routines are just the first aspect of sleep hygiene we’ll discuss.

I think of the bedtime routine as everything that happens after dinner.  After clearing plates and wiping up any crumbs that spilled off of their plates, my kids head straight to picking out their clothes for the next day then off to bath or shower.  Then it’s time for pajamas, hair brushing, dental floss and toothbrushing, then off to story time.  Usually Dad reads because he has not spent as much time with them during the day and I start tackling the dishes and making lunches for the next day so all that gets done before that last child goes to bed and we still have some time to ourselves in the evening.  Each child gets to pick at least one story before bed, more if I got dinner on the table early enough and if bath time goes smoothly.  The number of books is made clear at the start of story time to avoid any later negotiations and the child with the earliest bedtime gets to pick first.  After their story, that child says goodnight to their siblings and Dad and I walk them back for “final potty” and tuck-in (which is a quick event) while Dad gets the next child’s story started.  Then we repeat the process 3 more times before Mom & Dad go off-duty for the night.

It’s the same thing almost every night.  The kids are almost always asleep within minutes of being tucked-in.  I love hearing babysitters say, “The kids went to bed so easily, it was a breeze.”  And grandparents say they’re happy to watch the kids for date night because they’re so well-trained at bedtime.  Having a reliable bedtime routine benefits you and your children.  Yours can be totally different than mine as long as it’s consistent and involves getting them into “calm and quiet” mode to be primed for sleep.  Our routine has changed slightly over the years; for example, we used to read in their beds but after the 3rd child that got a little cramped so now we read in the living room.

Now of course there are going to be some times when the routine is modified.  For example, if we go swimming and shower earlier in the day we skip bath and go straight to pajamas.  Or if we go out to dinner and service is slow and we return home too late to fit in a bath without sacrificing bedtime, as long as they’re not horribly filthy we’ll skip bath.  I let them know the plan on the drive home from the restaurant and remind them as we walk in the door, then off they go to quickly get pajamas on to still have time for a story – unless we’re super late and that needs to be skipped too.  The beauty of a reliable bedtime routine is that the kids can go with the flow for an odd night here and there because they are comforted by the knowledge that the routine will be back the next day.

Breakfast is Scheduled

My name is Lindsay Emmerson and I am a mother of 4 young children: Colin (8), Robin (6), Logan (nearly 4), and Soren (approaching 2). This is the first bit of information I include when I tell you about myself because my identity is pretty entwined with my parental role being a stay-at-home mom. I actually have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology which probably makes me one of the most over-educated stay-at-home moms around but I’m certainly using aspects of my training in my daily life. I also took a brief foray into being a fitness coach in my early years of motherhood but that is a story for another day.

The quick back-story on why I’m starting a blog today…when people ask me what I’m going to do when all the kids are in school, I usually reply that first I will get caught-up on a 10-year-long To Do list. Then I’m planning to write a book on psychology and parenting. I’ve kept notes through the years and have a treasure chest of case points for the book from raising my own children. One day I just need time to sit down with my psychology textbooks and merge the two into a handbook for new parents. Last weekend a friend in a similar situation (who is writing an exciting book on intimacy and family relationships) told me her agent said she needs to have a social media platform with at least 5,000 followers before the publisher will seriously consider her work. To put this in perspective, I log onto Facebook about 7 times a year and I joined Instagram just last week. So, self-publishing started sounding like a good idea. But today I woke up and had an idea about something to blog about and thought I might as well try it out and see where it takes me.

Today I have one tid-bit of advice to share with mothers, fathers, caregivers, etc. that came about from using basic problem solving skills, a core component of cognitive behavioral psychology. Has your morning with your munchkin(s) ever seemed rushed? My husband leaves for work around 6am which coincides with 4 munchkins waking up hungry, needing to get dressed, needing to brush teeth and hair, needing to put on sunscreen (since we are so fortunate to live in Santa Barbara, CA), needing to do homework, needing to pack up their lunches for school, and all the while just wanting to play with (or harass) their siblings – not to mention that I should at least get myself dressed and brush my teeth before leaving the house. We need to leave the house by 8:15 to make it to the first school drop-off which is enough time to do all this, except when it’s not – when there’s a huge diaper blow-out, a sick child, when the kids or I wake up in a particularly grumpy mood, when we can’t find a library book that’s due that day, etc. So, we are often scurrying out the door.

In trying to simplify my morning routine, I came up with an organizational strategy that has greatly helped easy mornings. Imagine that four kids are asking you to make four different breakfasts. Sounds a bit chaotic, right? It hit me one day that I should have a set meal plan so I thought up five breakfast for Monday through Friday, each of which include a fruit and a protein, and told the kids this was the new plan:

Monday: muffins (a real treat to get everyone excited about Mondays), chopped fruit, and a glass of milk

Tuesday: cereal (because Tuesday I do all of my laundry and need every second in the morning to get the second load in before we head out for the morning), chopped fruit, and milk either in the cereal or in a glass

Wednesday: bagel with cream cheese and either fruit on the side or orange juice since the bagel and cream cheese have the protein covered

Thursday: oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts – option of juice if they have nuts for protein, otherwise milk

Friday: primevil bars (which are these yummy bar-shaped baked good that resembles a cinnamon-raisin bagel made by Trader Joe’s) with jam, honey, or peanut butter on top, shopped fruit, and milk on the side

This may be way healthier or way less healthy than you’re used to and your own munchkins might love or despise these items; the menu can obviously be varied tremendously to meet your family needs but the routine in the real triumph. Such a simple strategy made mornings so much easier. After a short period, the kids were totally into the routine and started asking, “What day is it? So what do we eat today?” A wonderful mother friend of mine with 3 children saw my menu printed out and posted on our refrigerator one day and loved the idea so much she adapted it to her family to simplify their mornings. You may have already thought of this technique on your own but if not, give it a try and hopefully it will make your parenting morning just a little bit easier. By the way, as the kids get older, I let them choose a different meal than the daily special if they can make the entire meal themselves. My 8 year-old and 6-year-old love oatmeal so last year they learned how to microwave it themselves and some weeks they have that on several mornings with the fruit I have prepared.  Similarly, my 3 year-old just learned how to prepare his own primeval bars.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing my next entry in this blog. So far while writing this one I have retrieved my 8 year-old’s homework from my 1 year-old, wiped watermelon juice off my 3 year-old, been asked about 10 questions, and been pleasantly interrupted by about 30 comments just beseeching praise and affirmation. But I’ll try to fit them in here and there!