1. Have a plan for the evening. If the kids know what to expect, they’re more likely to do it without complaints. If I know what to expect, I know how to communicate it to them and follow up on it. This also gets us on a good trajectory toward bedtime.
Usually we eat dinner between 5:30 and 6:30. Each of the FishBoys has a kitchen job: clearing the table, wiping the table, emptying the dishwasher, or sharking the floor. At dinnertime, I remind them not to leave the kitchen until their jobs are done, and then we discuss what needs to/gets to happen afterward. This might include other household chores, riding bikes, going to the pool, playing out back, watching a movie, etc.
Having a plan helps to eliminate The-Mindless-Surfing-Through-The-Evening-Until-I-Realize-It’s-10 pm-And-Why-Aren’t-My-Kids-in-Bed?! syndrome.
2. Have a bedtime routine and start it earlier than you think it will take. For many households this is going to include bathing, jammies, a last-chance snack, and brushing teeth. If your target for “lights out” is 8:30, then you need to start the routine by 7:30, at least. Watch the clock and adjust accordingly. If you have extra time, then enjoy those moments cuddling and reading stories or just talking.
(Pete’s a Pizza is a great book. And my kids love it when Papa “makes them into pizzas” at bedtime. We omit the water and checkers.)
3. Make lights out a sweet time. For us this means visiting each bedside with a hug and a kiss and talking quietly for a few minutes. FishPapa or I pray for our kiddos and remind them how much we love them. If they ask thought-provoking questions, we try to take the time to talk about them in the quiet of the night.
4. Allow for special exceptions when “I can’t sweep, Mama.” It’s bound to happen that they really aren’t tired yet. (Though you know we are!) Sometimes, if it’s a group dynamic, we allow them an extra 20 minutes to read and look at books. All four boys bunk in one room, so we gotta roll with it. Other times, we pop in a book on tape. (Our favorites include The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.)
In the case of one child with insomnia, we might set up a “cowboy bed,” a blanket on the floor of the playroom where he lies quietly. For some reason, though he’s still in bed, this change of locale seems special.
That’s how it works at our house. Please share in the comments section what helps everyone sleep tight in your home.