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.