Bedtime. Everyone is tired and maybe wired. We want kids to just go to sleep, and they want what? Another story, another hug, closet-monster exorcisms, last-minute games of indoor tag, to live free like Pippi Longstocking? Everyone knows that a consistent bedtime routine is good for healthy sleep habits — but this looks different in every house.
For some families, the bedtime routines for the kids are simple. Shoren Brown of Ballard says bedtime with his toddler Porter means BMB: bath, milk, book. Caitlin Price Youngquist, who grew up on Vashon Island and Beacon Hill, remembers that an alarm would go off at 8:00 pm, after which she and her siblings had an hour to clean up, get ready for bed, and read books. The faster they got ready, the more they got to read.
For other families, bedtime routines have a deeper meaning. Anna Krey of Woodinville wants her children, Calder, 3, and Elijah, 20 months, to end their days focusing on their family’s core values, which are shaped by their Mormon faith. “All day long, my kids read all kinds of books and are exposed to all kinds of people, and that’s how I want it,” says Anna. “I want my kids to have a rich and varied life, but the things I think are most important are the last things my kids hear before they go to bed.”
This means that after the kids are in their PJs, they have a cup of milk, hear their dad, Christopher, read a religious story, sing what Anna calls “the Jesus song,” and say a prayer, which includes the kids’ own requests for special blessings. These days, Calder asks to bless “the animals, the fire trucks, and the firefighters that go to help people.” Then he reads in his bed with a light on a timer.
For the Van Doughty family of Burien, bedtime routines with the kids are a time to connect with each other and nature. Before kids, Jaime Van and Brandon Doughty took after-dinner runs. Those became walks when their children Merit, 10, Mac, 8, and Amara, 6, came along. Jaime says these family walks are a “calming place to connect with each other without the distractions of home — the laundry on the couch, the dishes.” Rain, snow or shine, the Van Doughtys observe the nature in their neighborhood, count birds or flowers, and watch the seasons change. “We talk about our highlights and lowlights, watch the beautiful things that are happening, or don’t talk about anything at all,” says Jaime. “It’s a chance for free-flowing conversation and free-flowing silence too.” After they get home, they wind down with baths, tea and read-aloud stories. It’s a ritual that has evolved with as the kids get older and so stayed relevant.
And then there are the routines whose meanings parents can only guess. When Heidi McNamara was a child growing up in Ravenna, she insisted that her parents sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” with the chorus repeated five times. Then came a kiss goodnight. At the doorway, her parents had to pause and say “I love you, sweet dreams, goodnight” while doing specific hand gestures. Then they had to bow. Obsessive? Sure. But Heidi fell asleep happily, knowing she was safe and loved and that all was right in her world, and that’s really what bedtime — in all its forms — is about.
This article was first published in April 2017.
Read one mom’s honest how-to story about sleep training her first child: “New Mom Dispatch: Confessions of a Sleep Trainer.”
We asked our panel of sleep consultants for advice on how to help your child (and therefore you) get a good night’s sleep. See “Sleep Consultants to the Rescue“.
Thinking about using melatonin to get your child to sleep or keep him asleep? Read this first “Is Melatonin Safe to Give to Kids to Help them Sleep?”