I’m a staunch advocate for schedules and routines when it comes to raising children. In fact, I think predictable days can and do go a long way toward eliminating many behavioral issues. And the most important, most jealously guarded hour of the day should be the one leading up to bed time. After all, we all need a space of time to wind down from the day’s activities, time to slip from the go-go-go of the daylight hours to the peaceful rest of evening. Children are not excepted.
What we often don’t realize, though, is that children need many more hours of sleep than adults do. Evie, at 17 months, needs about 12-14 hours a day. She gets a solid ten most nights, and takes a 2-3 hour nap during the day. If she doesn’t get her sleep due to an outing or a late night or an early rising, she will be easily upset throughout the day. Tommy, at six, needs a good ten hours, which he gets all in one go overnight. Eight year old Penelope and 11 year old Rosie need between nine and ten hours, as sleep needs do decrease as they grow older. Even at 11, though, Rosie still needs more sleep than the 7-8 hours I need. It’s important to take this into account when fixing a bed time.
Oh, yes! An actual bed time is very important for all children, from babies to teens! And it’s important for the children’s parents, too. We need time, as married people, to reconnect and bond, and that is best done without the children underfoot. Of course, this may lead to more children. 😉
But back to bed time.
Children – and adults – need a period of transition from waking to sleeping. It has worked well for us to begin the bedtime routine with dinner. Dinner? Why, yes! Dinner is perhaps the most important meal of the day for family bonding. Cook something simple and tasty, with or without the children’s help, turn off the television and your other electronic intruders, and enjoy a little bit of conversation with your favorite people in the whole world. It’s a great time to catch up with each other after a day apart. And cleaning up together afterward helps to build camaraderie and house keeping skills.
After dinner, we like to move along to the tub. Older children shower, and younger children get a bath. It’s soothing and refreshing to wash away the grubbiness of the day. Brush teeth, put on pajamas, and then gather back together for a few minutes. It has been our most favorite part of the evening for many years now to read stories together. Fifteen minutes or so allows for a couple of picture books; twenty minutes is enough to read a chapter of most children’s novels. Then we pray together and I tuck them each into their beds, even the teens!
What if the bedtime that allows for the youngest children to get the sleep they need is too early for the older ones? I recommend allowing them to read in bed or write in a journal until their bedtime arrives. The important thing is to be quiet. And unplugged.
I mentioned that this should be the most jealously guarded hour of the day, and you’ll notice that most extracurricular activities will take place during this time. Team sports, 4H, religious education, and all of the adult organizations, too, schedule their meetings and activities for these hours after parents are home from work. We yield too much of our precious family time, I think, to outsiders, and it’s very hard to keep saying no to good things in order to keep those hours clear. But I think it’s worth it.
It’s worth it to have a habit of family meals. It’s worth it to have shared family experiences. It’s worth it to make sure everyone gets enough sleep. It’s worth it to ensure that husbands and wives have time together.
Bed time matters!
Do you have a bed time routine? At what hour do your children have to be in bed? Do you find that you have enough time to be with your spouse at the end of the day? What would you change if you could, and what is holding you back?