How to Have a Bedtime Routine (even with multiple kids)
A guide to help you develop a sleep schedule so that everyone sleeps well.
Is bedtime a stressful time in your home? I hear from so many mama friends about how rough bedtime is, how long and drawn out it is, how chaotic it feels, how many tears there are (theirs and their kids’).
One of my amazing mama friends described (beautifully) their bedtime routine looking “more like wrestling naked mole rats covered in Vaseline who are as fast and loud as a jet taking off”…Does this sound like bedtime in your house?
Maybe you found this post because you’re feeling desperate. Things are out of control.
Or maybe you’re here as a proactive step so that your night times with your new baby don’t become stressful.
Either way, can I be honest?
Bed time can be a totally enjoyable, maybe even your favorite part, of the day.
We don’t read endless books, sing endless songs, bring endless cups of water, or bring stray children back to their room repeatedly.
What helps the baby sleep? What helps toddlers sleep? And what helps people of all ages sleep? Routine. A good, solid, bedtime routine.
I’m going to share with you how we run our bedtime routine and have (mostly) peaceful nights.
With a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a 17 month old, our bedtime routine looks like this:
6:30pm: Bath time for everyone!
6:45pm: Everyone gets in jammies. The 17 month old says good night to siblings
6:55pm: Either Daddy or I put the 17 month old down for bed. We read one story (usually The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton), and sing Amazing Grace while cuddling. The older two play quietly in the living room or their room.
7:00pm: We put the 17 month old on his back in crib with his lovey and special blanket, say a prayer, turn on white noise, turn off the lights, and tell him “I love you.”
7:15pm: We do a quick clean up and then Quiet Reading time starts for the older two. They get 2 books and bring them to the couch. We put on calming music and we all read silently to ourselves. Since our 3 and 5 year old aren’t actually reading yet, they look through picture books.
7:40pm: Books get put away and they both use the restroom.
7:45pm: We brush teeth (we still brush their teeth for the first minute and a half, and they practice brushing their teeth after)
7:50pm: In their bedroom, we sit on the floor and lead them through a couple stretches and deep breathing exercises. Then they each get to pick one song to sing (we sing worship songs at this time). Next we ask them to share one thing they’re thankful for from the day. We pray over them, and then have a big family hug which they have termed, “huggle snuggle.”
8:00pm: Water bottles are double checked for being full, white noise is turned on, nightlight is turned on, lights are out, and we say, “I love you.”
When should you start a bedtime routine?
Ok, a better answer is when your little is 3 months old. This is a great time to bring in regularity with a bedtime routine since they’re naturally getting on a more consistent schedule (usually). And if they’re not yet, this is a great way to start some consistency and teach healthy sleeping habits.
It’s also a great time for our family since we usually start sleep training when our babies are around 4 months old, so having this bedtime routine in place better prepares them (and us) for that time, too.
But if your kid (or kids) are older than 3 months, don’t fear! You can start at any age, and you can start this week. No matter how old they are (ok, ok, once they hit 18, you should probably back off), a bedtime routine will benefit them and you!
How to create your own bed time routine
Step One: Decide on nightly activities
- Start by asking yourself, “What types of things do I envision for a bed time routine?” This is time to dream a little (haha, dream. Get it? Sleep…moving on). When you think of a peaceful bedtime routine with your kid(s), what do you think of? Write all those things down on a list.
Some activities to get you thinking:
Bath time, brushing teeth, massage, read-aloud, quiet reading, bedtime snack, lullabies, dancing out wiggles, coloring, prayers, words of encouragement, breathing techniques, words of thankfulness, blessings, stretches, highs and lows from the day, etc.
- Next, narrow it down to things that will fit within an hour. Your bedtime routine should take no longer than an hour from start to finish, but can even be as short as 15 minutes. Think about a time frame that will work most evenings of the week to do.
- Now, get specific. If you want to sing songs, how many? If you’re doing a read-aloud, is it for one book or a set amount of time? Are you reading the same book every night (we do this with our kids when they’re really young since repetition is very beneficial in development)? If you’re including bath time, how long will it last? Etc.
Jot down those notes.
Step Two: Decide on the time your kid(s) should be in bed with the lights out
It’s best to begin this step by researching how much sleep your child should be getting at their age.
Here’s a recommended time table from the National Sleep Foundation to help:
|Age||Recommended hours of sleep|
|Infants 4-11 months||14-17 hours|
|Toddlers 1-2 years||11-14 hours|
|Preschoolers 3-5 years||10-13 hours|
|School Age 6-13 years||9-11 hours|
|Teenagers 14-17 years||8-10 hours|
Note that not all of the recommended hours need to be at night. Keep that in mind as you plan! If your kiddo still naps, count that as part of their total recommended hours.
Because my children are still in a time of their development where they should be getting about 11 hours of sleep at night, we need to make sure they have the best chance to get that sleep! That whole brain development thing an’ all.
Now that you know how much sleep you should be aiming for, to figure out what time you should have your kids actually in bed with the lights out, work backwards from the time you want them to wake up.
My older two kids wake up at 7:30am, so to get the recommended 11 hours, they should be asleep by 8:30pm. Because most kids don’t just fall asleep the second their head hits the pillow, we get them in bed a half hour earlier than that time.
SO, if your kids wake up at 6:00am, and they’re in the same age bracket, then lights out should be at 6:30pm.
A couple of tricks to get your little to stay asleep longer:
Use a toddler OK to Wake light
This is an amazing tool! Seriously. The light turns green at the time you set it for, letting the kiddo(s) know they can get out of bed. Our kids caught on to this really quickly! They knew that I would walk them back to their bed (without talking with them) if they got up earlier than the light. That routine got pretty boring for them after just a couple days.
I would just suggest role playing and going over how it works thoroughly the night before first starting. Practice with them what happens if they get up too early, and what they can do if they’re up but the light isn’t green (ie: stay in bed, quietly read books, play quietly in their room, etc).
Push breakfast back
The second really important trick with creating a later sleep-in time is to push breakfast back. I don’t have breakfast ready before 8:00am. So if my gang gets up at 6:00am, they have to wait a really long time to eat. Their bodies naturally adjusted to this and they sleep in longer than when I was feeding them as soon as they’d wake up. It’s a game changer.
Note: It’s tricky, but this trick (see what I did there? So punny) still works with breastfeeding littles. When my now 17 month old was 11 months old and still breastfeeding, he started waking up at 6:00am. Since he was older and I wasn’t worried about calories anymore, I decided I wouldn’t breastfeed him until 7:00am. When he got up, I played with him on the floor, but I stopped sitting in the nursing chair or holding him by his food source haha It took a lot to keep him distracted, but I was persistent in not nursing him until 7:00am. So he soon started sleeping in until 7:00am. Then I pushed the morning nursing time to 7:15am. And then to 7:30am. His body naturally adjusted to this routine, and mama got her much-needed quiet time.
Don’t engage with them if they wake up early
If they get up early, don’t engage in conversation or much eye contact.
Kindly and firmly walk them back to their bed and briefly remind them of your rules.
An example in our home is, “I’m not talking with you since it’s still bed time. You need to stay in your bed quietly until the light turns green. I love you.” I have a little who loves to ask a million questions to try to get me to cave. So I firmly and lovingly repeat, “I’m not talking with you because it’s still bed time. I can’t wait to talk to you once the light turns green. I love you.”
You might feel like you’ll die of repetition before they get it. But be consistent! Keep at it until their habits and bodies change!
Step Three: Think about the order of activities
Your bed time routine should be like a trail that slowly winds down. You want the routine to start off with something that begins that wind down process. So, it would make no sense to have quiet reading time followed by a “get your wiggles out dance.” Try to think backwards from the calmest activity being closest to bed time, to the most invigorating activity being farthest from bed time.
For my kids, bath time is actually not that relaxing. It is a step in the right direction, for sure, but they’re still pretty wound up after bath (even if I put lavender oil in it!).
That’s why it’s our first activity. It starts the process, but is not the most calming thing we do.
You want the routine to progress to calmer and calmer activities.
If your thing is to have a tickle fight every night, may I encourage you to do that first thing? Keep that in the routine, but keep it as far away from actual bed time as possible, man.
As you consider your activities, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it sustainable? Are you able to do this every. single. night? Sure, you might like to do massages with your kids, but are you able to do that each night, or should that be more of a special activity that you throw in every once in a while? If you like the idea of it every night, go for it! That’s so great! I would just die.
- What am I excited about? What do I not want to do? Your kids are following the routine, but you have to implement it every night. If you love to read a loud with your little(s), this should absolutely be part of your routine. For me, I do so many read a louds during the day that I’m kinda over it by bedtime. To make it enjoyable and sustainable for me, we do silent reading instead. Now, I don’t love brushing my kids’ teeth, but that’s a non-negotiable. I’m not talking about that kind of stuff.
- Do I want a babysitter to be able to implement our bedtime routine? Our answer to this question was a huge YES! We certainly wanted to be able to leave for an evening and not worry about messing up the bed time routine!
- If YES, could the activities I’ve chosen be done by said babysitter? We picked activities and even the song Amazing Grace based on wanting anyone (not just ANYONE, but, you know, well-vetted babysitters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, best friends) to be able to implement a flawless bed time.
Step Four: Write it down or type it up
This is crucial. Fine tune those times and create an actual schedule. Be as detailed as you can. Think about how long each activity will legitimately take. Then write. it. down.
Give your new routine a couple nights run-through to see if your times are fairly accurate.
When you are happy with it, make an official copy.
If you want a free template to use, grab it by clicking the link below!