Over the years, we have tweaked our bedtime routine to help us put all five of our children to bed every night before 8:30 p.m. Without an established bedtime routine, putting our five kids to bed would totally stress me out, but as we enter our evening routine, I am filled with a sense of peace knowing that things will pretty much run on autopilot once the sequence begins, we’ll be able to give every child special attention, and everyone will go to bed easily, happily, and without complaint. (Not only that but the house will be clean and everything will be ready for the next day.)
I don’t think there’s a magic recipe for the perfect routine as long as there is a routine that both the parents and children are familiar with. This is what works for us.
The Importance of Routine
During the summer, we stick to the same sequence of events, but the timing is more flexible because we know that we can stay up later and the kids can sleep in. During the school year, our sequence of events is ruled by the clock. There is still some flexibility based on circumstances, but we basically try to follow the schedule based on time. The kids really like it too. They’ll look at the time and remind us of what step we need to be on. I really think it makes them feel empowered and safe to know what is going to happen next every step of the way.
If you need a laugh, I love how comedian Jim Gaffigan explains what a bedtime without routine might feel like in his stand up from
“Bedtime makes you realize how completely incapable you are of being in charge of another human being. My children act like they’ve never been to sleep before. “Bed? What’s that? No, I’m not doing that.”
Establishing a New Bedtime Routine After Having a Baby
Every time we’ve had another baby, we’ve had to modify our bedtime routine. It’s always a bit weird and awkward at first, but we keep tweaking it until everything is just right. Sometimes the kids are a bit defiant or unsure of the new routine, but we keep at it knowing that in time it will become second nature to them. We also know that if something is just not working or someone is throwing a fit, we just do whatever we can to plow forward and know that we will reconvene, make a new plan, and make the adjustments needed the next night.
1. Dinner (5:00 – 5:30 p.m.)
It’s funny to think of bedtime starting with dinner, but I like to send all of my children to bed with full bellies, so the sequence for me starts here! All of my kids are such picky eaters and have their own likes/dislikes/cravings/needs, so I like to think of a general theme and then supplement with what each child will require. We typically go for a family style meal with lots to choose from so kids can pick what they want, and I like us to eat outside at the picnic table whenever possible. (Far less clean up!)
Sometimes we all sit around the table to eat, but there is always someone who needs a diaper change or throwing a tantrum it seems, so the dinner table is kind of a revolving door. Also, Scott and I are eating a really specific keto diet for weight loss, so we eat our own food. After everyone has eaten dinner, Scott and I clean up while the kids run off to play. This is a nice time for us to finally catch up with each other!
2. Family Time (5:30 – 6:30 p.m.)
After we clean up dinner, we like to spend some time playing together as a family. Even if the house is messy or there are other things to be done, we pause all chores and spend some quality time together having fun. If the weather is nice, we love hanging out in our backyard or going on an adventure somewhere in town. But if the weather is bad, we’ll stay inside and find something fun to do. Before we start the next part of the sequence (which is pajamas and choice time), we have the kids help us pick up the yard and/or house.
3. Pajamas and Choice Time (6:30 p.m.)
At 6:30 p.m., we start pajamas and choice time. Once kids get their pajamas on, they have about 30 minutes to do whatever they want (which is usually some sort of technology like watching YouTube videos or TV, playing the WiiU, or playing a game on their tablets).
Ruby and Elliot are really good about putting their pajamas on and putting their dirty clothes in their hampers. Ruby likes to be alone in her room for her choice time and Elliot usually likes to use the computer in the kitchen. Ophelia could put her pajamas on by herself, but lately she has been pretending to be a baby and wants me to put her pajamas on for her, so I do. (This is a big year for her starting kindergarten and I am totally fine if she wants to take a mental break from that.) Scott and I put Julian and Jack’s pajamas on too, and then Ophelia and Julian usually cuddle up in our bed with their tablets. Sometimes we’ll turn the TV on for Jack if he’s cuddly and sleepy, and other times he still has energy to burn and continues playing.
While this is going on, Scott and I prepare everyone’s rooms by turning on fans, lamps, and air conditioners or heaters (if needed), get tooth brushes ready, tidy up the house, do the remaining dishes, prepare after dinner snacks (chips and cheese and any leftovers from dinner), and get things ready for tomorrow (backpacks out, set the table for breakfast, etc.).
4. Our Room (7:00 p.m.)
At 7:00 p.m. we tell everyone that choice is over, plug in devices, and meet in our bedroom. During this time, there’s usually some kind of show playing that everyone will like (Storybots is popular right now and a really cool educational show) and Scott wrestles with everyone while I get Ruby’s room and Jack’s bottle ready plus do all of the last minute things that need to be done including brushing my teeth and getting my pajamas on. After all of my jobs are done, I like to tickle, cuddle, wrestle, and play with the kids too. Sometimes kids play with legos at our lego table and sometimes the sleepy or sick ones will cuddle in our bed ready for nigh-night.
This is our last chance to make sure everyone has had enough food for the day, so we will usually bring in the leftovers from dinner, some chips and cheese, and some of my homemade cookies for everyone to snack on. We give last call for chips and cheese about ten minutes before the next step in the sequence.
5. Teeth Brushing (7:30 p.m.)
At 7:30 p.m., we whisper to Ophelia to brush her teeth (because if she’s not first she will have an absolute meltdown, and we’ve made the decision that this is best for all of us) then we do a clapping pattern and chant, “Let’s go brush our teeth! Let’s go brush our teeth!” We turn off the TV, gather all dishes, turn out the lights, and meet the kids in the bathroom.
The three older ones use flossers and then electric toothbrushes to brush their teeth. I still like to brush Ophelia’s teeth every few days, but she does a pretty good job of brushing them herself as do Ruby and Elliot. Julian brushes his teeth with the big kids and then Scott brushes them again in his bed. I hold Jack on my lap and brush his teeth. He opens his mouth for about ten seconds and then it’s like wrestling with a snake, but we get the job done.
6. Little Ones to Bed (Done at 8:00 p.m.)
Ruby, Elliot, and Jack
After teeth brushing, Ruby and Elliot watch Jack in the living room while Scott and I put Ophelia and Julian to bed. To ensure that Jack won’t leave the living room, we put up a baby gate and Ruby and Elliot put one of his favorite TV shows on (currently True or Trolls). *When Jack was a newborn, I would just carry him with me while putting Ophelia and Ruby to bed and then nurse him to sleep after that until he was about 3 months old and able to be left with Ruby and Elliot.
Daddy and Julian
Scott chases Julian up the stairs, and Julian squeals in delight as he tries to run up the stairs ahead of Daddy. Then Julian throws the door open and jumps into bed. Scott gives him a flashlight while he goes to fill up his water bottle with fresh cold water. When he comes back, Julian is hiding under the covers with his flashlight while Daddy creeps into the room and hides somewhere different each night. Then, when Julian can’t take it anymore (The anticipation is too much!), he pops out of the blanket and Scott runs at him with an, “Ahhhh!” Julian loves it!
Next, he takes a drink of water while Scott finds a book to read. After reading, they look at pictures on Daddy’s phone. When they’re done, Julian turns Daddy’s phone off and says “Boom!” as he drops the phone on his chest, and then Daddy gets into his little toddler bed and snuggles him. They talk about their day, then they give a kiss, and Scott gets out of bed, gives another kiss, and then heads to the door saying, “I love you! Good night! Sweet dreams!” Julian repeats what he says and sometimes changes the words in a funny way (like he does for everything), and then Scott shuts the door and creeps slowly down the stairs.
Mommy and Ophelia
Across the hall, Ophelia and I are going through her bedtime routine at the same time as Daddy and Julian. After she leads the way up the stairs, we always race to her twin bed (her second bed) and hop under the large silky blanket. She turns on my phone and we cuddle up to watch three Kids Learning Tube videos (before these videos we would watch Dr. Binocs). Then she goes pee on the little potty in her room, and I tuck her into bed. We talk about her day and what the next day is going to be like, then I turn off her light, and we kiss each other on the cheeks at the same time and forehead (her idea).
As I back away to the door she always says things like, “I hope you get good sleep and don’t get a virus!” and then she usually keeps trying to say one more thing and one more thing as I try to find a stopping point and say, “Goodnight darling, I love you, sweet dreams!” She often says the last thing after I shut the door and so I’ll say one last thing to her on the monitor when I get to the bottom of the stairs. After she knows that I’m gone, she’ll turn on her bedside lamp and read out loud to herself for about 30 minutes before turning out her light. (Before going to school, she would often stay up until 11:00 p.m. or later reading, singing, and playing and then sleep in until 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. the next day, but now that she gets up early for school, she goes to bed at a decent time.)
When I’m done putting Ophelia to bed, Scott is usually in the living room hanging out with Ruby, Elliot, and Jack. Sometimes they’ll read a chapter book together, sometimes they’ll watch a small part of a movie each night, and other times they’ll just continue watching what they were watching with Jack. When I come out, the party’s over, and Ruby always rides on Daddy’s shoulders to bed. I follow behind with Jack, and Elliot jumps in his bed to read with Daddy.
7. Jack to Bed (8:00 p.m.)
After I tuck Ruby and Jack into Ruby’s bed, we read Jack a bedtime story. Ruby is so in love with her little brother and thinks everything he does is adorable. She loves cuddling with him, reading to him, and giving him goodnight kisses. After story time, I get Jack’s bottle, and we pass by Daddy and Elliot reading saying goodnight. I sit in my big comfy rocking chair and snuggle Jack in his silky while giving him a bottle and singing him lullabies. I keep singing as I carry him to bed, tuck him in to his crib in our closet, shut the door, and walk away. He does so well going to sleep and as of a couple of weeks ago has finally been sleeping through the night! (He used to need a bottle in the middle of the night, but would always go right back to sleep afterwards.)
8. Older Ones to Bed (Done at 8:30 p.m.)
Ruby reads to herself while she waits for me (it only takes me about 5 minutes to put Jack down), and when I come in, she puts her book down so we can chat. Whatever time I get there, I like to stay to talk to her for at least 15 minutes. She LOVES this time of the day, and so do I! We always have these really deep and meaningful conversations that just can’t happen at any other time of the day. We talk about life, what she’s struggling with, what she’s excited about, how our family is doing, what everybody is working on, future plans and dreams that we have, and so on. When our time is up, she reads to herself until she is tired (anywhere from 10-30 minutes), turns off her light, and goes to sleep.
Scott and Elliot start their time together with Elliot reading out loud. He loves reading books like Amulet, Pilot and Huxley, Press Start, Magic Treehouse, and the monster books him and I have made together. After reading, they play a video game on Daddy’s phone or watch some funny videos. Then they chat briefly about random topics (anywhere from why people in fail videos do such stupid things, how to be a programmer, or why people have jobs) and say goodnight. Sometimes Elliot will read to himself for 5-10 minutes, but usually he just wants to turn his lights off and go to bed.
9. Time for Mom and Dad (8:30 – 10:00 p.m.)
Now that Jack goes to bed on the same timeline as the others and sleeps through the night, we are thrilled to get some time to hang out together every night! On many occasions, someone will get out of bed, need an extra cup of water, have to go to the bathroom, have trouble sleeping, or any number of things, so we are flexible knowing that some nights we might get a lot of time to hang out and sometimes we might not get very much.
Depending on the day we’ve had we might want to just sit and talk, watch a movie, play a video game, or get some work done. During the week, we try to make sure we are in bed by 9:30-10:00 p.m. We may push it a bit later on the weekends if we know we can sleep in. (*On the weekends, the kids can wake up, get their ipads or turn on the TV and have choice time as long as they leave us alone!)
**Once day light savings hits, we will pull the bedtime routine back by about half an hour to get everyone to bed before 8:00 p.m. so we can make sure we get enough time to hang out and go to bed by 9:30 p.m. We wake up at 5:45 a.m. and wake up the kids at 6:45 a.m., and this extra sleep in the cold winter months is crucial to avoiding sickness!
Having a consistent bedtime routine takes the stress out of putting the kids to bed. Every night we know what to expect, they know what to expect, and it runs like clockwork. If someone throws a fit or has some sort of meltdown, we use distraction, humor, and whatever other tricks necessary to get to the next step of the sequence and everything continues to run smoothly. Our bedtime routine isn’t just about getting our kids to go to sleep, it’s about meeting everyone’s basic needs, enjoying time as a family, and spending quality time with each child. This is what works for us and helps us to not only get through our bedtime routine but ENJOY it as well!