For children, and parents, the bedtime ritual is one of the key times of the day. During the week, if you come home late from work, it could be the only quality moment of exchange that you will have with your child. You might as well make it a moment of calm and gentleness! Easy thing to say as sometimes it can be an idyllic, time and sometimes it can quickly turn into a real nightmare …
So, based on our experience with our little one who is 6 years old today, here are some tips for making this important moment a success for everyone!
We will come back in detail in a future article on the importance of rituals and routines in the organization of a child's day, but for the evening, in general, the idea is to have a recurring pattern, whatever the day of the week. Every evening, from 6.15 p.m. our daily routine starts which leads us to the bedtime ritual. This has the advantage of being soothing and reassuring for your child and helps him to progress in learning autonomy and collaborating with household tasks.
For example, after the meal (7:30 p.m. if all goes well), I usually ask my daughter (and that since she was 4 years old) what she is going to do next. "I am going to clear my plate, wash my hands, brush my teeth, pee, pick a bedtime story and go to bed" (The plate step is often forgotten, but we hang on) . She is now almost autonomous on this part but of course, it took a lot of support and kindness in the first years. Even today, she often happens to "daydream" between two tasks or to forget one and it is up to us to put her "back on track". 😉
In general, while your child is busy finishing their routine, take the opportunity to relax for a quarter of an hour. Play a piece of music that soothes you, take the time to breathe, and push aside any negative thoughts that may still pollute your mind. This may be the best advice we can give you. Approaching the bedtime ritual full of the stress of YOUR day will not put you in the best position to interact with your child, be in an active listening posture and enjoy the moment. The state of mind with which you approach the bedtime ritual is also, in my opinion, more important than the state of mind of your child. He does not yet have the codes to understand and interpret what he feels. You, the adult must be able to do it for him.
The need for a well-established daily routine does not prevent us from changing of few things for nights out. Going out with friends on Saturday nights bringing our daughter is by no means ruled out. A simple "tonight, we're celebrating, you'll be able to go to bed later!" allows the child to understand that the established pattern will not be respected (and that in no case it is a bad thing).
And if the evening routine is not yet in place on your end don't worry, we will soon explain to you how we have integrated it over time and also provide you with some tools that would have been useful for us at the time.
At the risk of shocking parents who would like to adhere to the letter to many tables that can be found on the internet or in pediatric books, since she started school, I have always put my child to bed at 8:00 p.m., regardless of her age. This is simply because I come home late from work but always want to put her to bed. This hour has therefore never changed and is not about to change. Somehow I consider (perhaps to reassure myself) that the routine acquired for several years now has never had to be disturbed. Only a few requests related to the evolution of her age and capabilities were added over time.
So do not feel guilty because you are a quarter of an hour behind the time recommended by everyone. Everyone has their own schedule, their constraints and as said previously, it is perhaps better to put your child to bed a quarter of an hour "too late" but in good condition for him as well as for you, rather than hurrying at all costs so that your child is in bed on time. This may only make matters worse: it is always more complicated to put a stressed child to bed than a calm child!
One parent or both, that is the question! I tend to believe that every parent should have the right to enjoy the bedtime ritual with their child. Personally, I would do the evening story together. If, however, you feel the need to add some steps (which we will see later) to the ritual, I would recommend to keep only one of the two parents (alternating every other evening, or the most willing quite simply) to promote communication in a 1 to 1 dialogue with your child.
The ideal time to perform the bedtime ritual can be very variable depending on the child himself, but also his day, his mood, his anxieties … Beyond 30 minutes, I tend to believe that the ritual slowly turns into constraint. Nothing serious if it is exceptional, but it should not be a habit at the risk of spendin all evening on this and that your child ultimately falls asleep much too late.
For a year now, I have replaced the traditional night-light with an alarm clock on which I can put a light that decreases in intensity until it goes out after 30 minutes. I start the countdown at the beginning of the story, after the dialogue phase. The first 10 minutes are dedicated to the story (you can see it clearly enough to read) and I usually leave 10 to 15 minutes before the lights are completely out.
Before starting the story, ask your child to organize his bed. Arranging his cuddly toys, preparing his sheets, will naturally put him in condition to go to bed because he will have chosen for himself how his environment will be organized. We all wish there was only one soft toy next to the pillow, but from what I can hear around me, there will usually be more of an average of 10 to 15 soft toys!
"Can we remove this old teddy bear that takes up half the bed all by itself? Or put it at the end of the bed eventually, because this poor blanket is very tight between the big bunny and the unicorn? What if we had to keep only 3? Can the others go and rest quietly on the dresser? "
You have to make your child understand that the bed is a place to sleep and that the idea of the bedtime ritual is not to classify all its merry bunch of cuddly toys. We will therefore keep the favorites, those without whom we could not sleep, and for the others, we will leave them in sight of the child.
If you feel that the subject is delicate, do not break his heart, the idea is not to change everything suddenly but step by step!
Now it is time to take 5-10 minutes to chat. This period is important to me because it allows me to establish a dialogue of trust and it is often easier for a child to share his day, his feelings, in a calm environment. At the table, to the question "Did you have a good day?" my daughter will systematically answer" Yes ". To the next question "What did you do today", the common answer is "I don't know". Frustrating isn't it?
Right before the story, it will be easier to open up. If there are no answers, feel free to share your day, describing a key event. Even if it's trivial things like your midday meal, it can set an example for your child to get on with their own day.
Also take the opportunity to take the temperature, to try to know how your child is feeling. Is he too excited or, on the contrary, in a good mood to sleep? Does he feel joy, sadness, what is his mood? Physically, does he feel tired? Does he have a stomach ache?
Based on what you heard / understood, explain the following steps to your child:
Before continuing, always wait for your child to validate your proposal, otherwise he will easily tend to want to add an activity or win more time later. Over time, he is the one who can come up with a story that suits him and why not an exercise that will help him relax.
Before she entered first grade and because I wanted to vary the interaction with her a bit, I quickly came up with "participatory" stories for my daughter. We will also soon be offering a dedicated article on this, but the idea is that at several times (as in the books in which you are the hero, for those who know about them) the child will be able to make choices that will have an impact on the course of the story. It doesn't take any more time, but it does bring real interaction and a feeling of satisfaction for the child who after several tries / evenings will finally achieve the best possible result. The only risk? Have your child ask you the same story for a month in a row because he hasn't done all the possible paths yet or because he just doesn't get tired of it even if he knows everything by heart!
From entering first grade and learning to read I completed with a series of books dedicated to her grade level and we now do the readings in pairs, with each its own paragraphs and dialogues.
And now ?
What did you take away from the time of the dialogue?
We are preparing an article entirely dedicated to meditation exercises to do with your child depending on their mood, what they may have expressed.
In the meantime, here are some keys:
If you can't figure out what is wrong at all and your child is not open to discussion, breathing exercises will always be helpful (slow, deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth) . Another exercise that I like to do, even on a personal level, is to try from the head to the toes to contract each part of the body for a few seconds. It takes a little time but requires you to stay still (outside the targeted area).
When all the steps have been taken and "validated by your child", it's time to give him a big hug, a kiss, to say "good night", "see you tomorrow", "I love you very much" and above all wait for his response. This signifies that he has understood the end of the ritual and that he is now ready to fall asleep on his own.
Really try to approach bedtime as a pleasure and not a constraint. It must be a sincere exchange. Whenever possible, the most willing parent will take care of bedtime. In any case, do not:
Rather than shouting or punishing him, which will not make him sleep faster anyway, ask him to come up with a calm solution to relax, but on the condition that it is done alone and in his bed, because the bedtime ritual is over. Explain that it's okay if he doesn't fall asleep right away, but his bedtime has passed and he needs to stay in bed. For example, he could:
In any case, each child is different and each day lived is different. It is important to make sure that you yourself are in the best possible condition to promote your child's sleep, and then to do the best! There will inevitably be some evenings when your child (or yourself?) will be closed to dialogue, tenderness, listening and in need to "unload" too much pressure. In this case, nothing serious, but we must hold on and the ritual will get better the next day!
Do not hesitate to comment and give us your feedback and "tips" that you yourself use for the bedtime ritual with your child!