Looking for a bedtime routine for preschoolers? Here’s our new routine that’s made bedtime so much easier! It’s all in what you say when you leave the room.
My husband and I have been fighting bedtime for years. From the time my first was born with colic, we have been sleep deprived. Enter newborn twins only 18 months later and it just went from bad to worse.
To survive, we let the older kid sleep with us. Then we allowed him to watch TV until he was tired. And all of a sudden the twins are 3 and we were still fighting bedtime from bad habits we let them (and ourselves) develop. The kids weren’t sleeping well through the night and we were lucky to get 5 hours most nights. So something had to change. Reading an article about how inconsistent bedtimes can lead to behavioral problems (although, what doesn’t now days), was what finally made me take the plunge.
So, in speaking with my pediatrician as well as looking up ideas online and in RIE communities, I developed a simple and surprisingly effective bedtime routine that you can implement too.
Disclaimer: In order to implement this routine, I personally believe that your children need to have a solid understanding of bedtime. I think that having the kids at ages 3 and almost 5 has made the difference for our family. We have tried breaking bad bedtime habits before and it left our children feeling confused and stressed.
Here is my timeline. This is only a portion of the routine! Equally important is what follows the routine, so keep reading.
It varies depending on activities, what time I get out of the office or what I have done for dinner. But you can see loosely how it could fit into your life.
5:30 – 6:30
Eat dinner and allow the kids to watch around 3o minutes of TV because it gives me a minute to decompress. This means we have broken up movies into multiple nights lately. This was really hard at first. We are a family of TV lovers. I’m not a crunchy granola mom so I don’t fully accept that TV is inherently bad (although I completely respect your opinion if you do!), but I will say my kids behavior has changed since we have lessened their screen time.
6:30 – 7:00
Play. I let the kids play and wind down from the TV for a bit. Lately we have been listening to music and dancing in their rooms, which has helped get some energy out.
7:00 – 7:30
Baths and bedtime snack. Yes, they eat a little again. But it’s a small amount to fill their tummies and ward off any asking for water or food when they get into bed.
7:30 – 8:00
Books and lullabies. Keep the lullabye the same every night. It helps signal that it’s bedtime and after a while may induce a feeling of tiredness in your child.
“Great” you say. “But when I leave the room they just cry and whine and get out of bed. I have a solution for that, too!
First, before I give you the solution, let’s talk about why they whine or cry and get out of bed. It could be several reasons. First, they could be scared. They are scared of the dark, of you not being there, or of any other number of things. Being alone as a young child is very frightening. Afterall, you or someone else is with them or near them all day. Second, they could think they are missing out. It is really important that the activity outside their bedrooms stays at a minimum. For my family, we are lucky enough to have a TV room far away from the kids bedrooms so my husband can still watch it if he wants.
So, here’s the trick. Once you have tucked them into bed and taken care of all reasonable fears other than being alone (turning on the night lights, giving them a lovie, etc.) then you say “I’ll be right back. You can stay awake as long as I’m gone but I’m going to adjust the thermostat real fast.” Leave the room and come right back. Don’t take longer than 30 seconds. Come back in the room, pat their backs or whatever helps to soothe them, then tell them you are leaving again, using a task that will take you slightly longer. “I’ll be right back. You can stay awake as long as I’m gone but mommy needs to potty.” Leave the room and take slightly longer. Keep this pattern up until you have reached a task that takes a while. “I’ll be right back. You can stay awake as long as I’m gone. I’m going to do a quick load of laundry.”
Why does this work? It helps assure them that you will be back. They know that you are there for them. Eventually they will tire out and fall asleep. The next night eliminate the quickest trip out of the room and keep at it until you only have to check on them one or two times.
I hear you moms of more than 1 kid saying you can’t do this. YOU CAN! I do it with my 3 by myself. I will admit that the first night, my husband helped a lot. But I found it easier the next evening to do most of it alone. The kids were making us run back and forth, requesting the parent that wasn’t with them. He still does help if I ask, but having one parent as primary bedtime parent has been easier for us. I also keep the light on all night in the boys room. My boy twin is especially frightened of the dark. If the light is on though, he’s just fine.
It won’t be smooth at first. And it was a huge outlay of work initially. I was ready to give up that first night after an hour of this “I’ll be right back” business. But I kept at it and my evenings are so much happier now! I have time to myself for the first time in years and my children are well rested and happier.
Have more questions or want to start a discussion? Comment below. Do you have a great routine or method you use? What is it? Leave me a comment!
10 thoughts on “Bedtime Blues? Try this fix. It worked for me with my 3 preschoolers!”
Great advice Casey! My kids are 8 and 12 and I went thru the same thing when they were younger. Kids thrive on routine because it gives them stability. I will share this on my Facebook page. I have many friends with younger children that I am sure could use these tips! Here’s to a great nights sleep 🙂
Thank you so much, Ellen. It was so tough to implement it after years of being inconsistent. The key is definitely what you say after the routine. It’s been working like a charm!
Good for you Casey! We do almost the same routine and have since they were little, little, but one difference. We rock in the dark while singing lullabies then tell them they have 3 minutes of quiet rocking time before they have to lay down. Then (approximately 🙂 ) 3 minutes later we say, “Okay, it’s time to lay down and go to sleep now”. and It works almost every night without any problems. It’s all in the routine and letting them know what is coming next. 😀
Great advice, Shana! Do you still rock the boys too?
Cool- I’ve never heard of that tactic before, but it makes a LOT of sense! We do something similar in that our night time schedule rarely if ever changes. Bath time, stories, songs…repeat! We still end whatever songs we sing her with “Twinkle Twinkle, and then “Barney” – because that was our routine when she was 2! Those songs signal sleep time now for all of us…lol.
So glad you found a great schedule for your kiddos! It must be a challenge to cater to all 3 and their unique sleep needs at once. Sounds like you have a brilliant solution!
I knew all along that we needed a routine, but I just didn’t have the words that would help my children feel safe. It definitely is a battle with all 3.
So sweet that you still have the routine from when she was 2!
I am the worst bedtime routine mom in the world. Seriously, I should just write posts about what NOT to do with your children so other moms can figure out how to do the opposite and be successful parents. (Kidding. But not really!)
This.this is pure brilliance I’m going to really try this. my kid is 5 and he’s never slept through the night. I can’t handle it anymore. He has autism which is a huge factor to it all but still I need to try this!! You are amazing. My son sleeps beside me or my husband because we just get so exhusted we give up and need sleep but the whole be right back thing is perfect!
This I need to try. It is a struggle almost every night. Crying, negotiating and I’m always the bad guy. Some times I give up, some days I stay in the room and some days I leave them to sleep on their own because I am too over whelmed… I talk too much and my girls just cry all the time. I have a two and four year old amd they share a room. should I be doing the routine together ? I feel like I’m doing everything wrong… I will try this. Wish me luck
I’m in the same boat. I’ve tried some of that. Helps a little. Gonna try tonight but the only thing I’m worried is is it in a way lying to your kids to trick them to going to bed.