We figured out a long time ago that the child works best with routines, but with an occasional change of pace. I am also noticing that her apparently neuro-typical siblings can take advantage of routine to create chaos. Recently this has all appeared in the form of marathon bedtime routines that leave me ready to pull my hair out. For the past three years our bedtime routine has not really changed:
Try the potty, put on jammies, eat dessert, brush teeth, read stories, go to bed…
…in that order, directed with simple phrases. We had it down to a system. Initially it really took two adults to oversee this with three children, two toddlers and one with developmental delays. On those rare evenings when we went out we often asked two people to come babysit. It just didn’t seem fair to ask one person to do it all. We didn’t even handle it solo ourselves very often. After a while things got easier. Thanks to our life-saving behavior management class and the maturing of the twins everyone went through a pretty compliant stage, and what a relief it was. Well, now it is primarily the twins who are the little troublemakers, but their antics make it hard for the child to stay on task, too. She pretty much falls in with the behavior of those around her, so if the twins are being silly, she will be, too. Handling bedtime solo has become challenging again, but it is happening more often, and I am learning a lot in the process.
The other day I decided to try something to make things a little more fun for everyone. I enlisted the child to help me set it up, which was a perfect strategy for getting her on board to change the routine. We kept all of the steps, but wrote them each on slips of paper and drew them out of a hat one at a time to find out which order we would use to get ready for bed. I very carefully kept “eat dessert and then brush teeth” together as one step so as not to get these critical steps in the wrong order. We left out “go to bed” since obviously that has to be last! We have now done this several times and I have taken away a few lessons:
- Changing the order prevents stalling tactics. Because the children don’t know which step is coming next, and because the process of picking the next step is itself kind of fun, they don’t know quite how to put off the next step. Using our “old” routine they knew I would be busy helping sissy with her teeth so they could go hide or start a game of tumbling on the couch and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
- Since there’s less stalling there’s more time for reading. We often would only read stories for 15-20 minutes, but I’ve been wanting to increase this time anyway, and now with our “mixed up bedtime” we can often spend 30 minutes snuggling on the couch with books. If stories comes up early in the sequence then I set a timer for 30 minutes so the children know there is a specific end point.
- Perhaps even more important than keeping the kids on track, I have to stay focused, too. It was too tempting to do a few dishes while the kids ate their dessert or straighten up that mess while waiting for them to get books. Trying this new system made me put everything else aside and pay attention. I proved this as an essential component tonight when I thought I had it figured out and got distracted by the dishes again…predictably the kids got off course as soon as I did.
- There’s some fine tuning that I need to do given that little boy is still pretty new to the potty business. Since I never know where “try the potty” might fall I need to start asking him to go a little before we start the bedtime routine to make sure that he can last until we get to that step.
So far the kids seem to enjoy doing this as a special game with Mommy. We haven’t explained it all to Daddy yet, so it may just stay our thing for those evenings when he is away from home. Each night I’ve given them a choice between regular bedtime and mixed up bedtime and they consistently choose to be mixed up…
How do you handle bedtime at your house? What helps keep it fun and enjoyable?