Ask anyone who knows me well, and they could probably tell you that I’m big on creating an atmosphere. (I inherited this from my mom.) Even if the house is a mess, there are certain things I always do to make my home match the mood of our activities. And by “if the house is a mess,” I mean “because the house is a mess”. But anyway, the ever-trying task of helping kids transition into bedtime forced me to create a few habits that make it a little easier.
When bedtime is approaching and my kids are wired-tired, fussy-tired, or just plain not tired enough, there are things I like to do to help us all out a little. (Actually, I tend to do this regardless. They are nice things to do, and also, how often are the kids tired just enough and ready for bed? Not very often.)
I’m not talking about a bedtime routine.
I’m talking about those days when your preschooler had a little too much fun at the park and you know it’ll be tough putting him to bed. Or times when your toddler didn’t nap well and you know she’s exhausted because of the fussing she’s sending your way. I’m also talking about the times your kids are actually over-rested and didn’t get enough activity, and you know you’re going to face a battle at bedtime.
So here’s what I do before bedtime to get my kids as calm and content as possible.
1. Dim the Lights
There’s a reason it’s called “mood lighting.” Softer lighting will actually help cue your family that nighttime is coming. Even in the summertime, you can close the curtains, turn off overhead lights and turn on some lamps, or dim your lights if possible. Sometimes my kids notice when I do this, but usually they are too busy to care.
2. Play Soft Music
I love online radio stations like Pandora and Amazon Prime Music, and I use them almost exclusively for this. You can tailor your music however you’d like, but I recommend a lullaby channel or one based on soft piano music. If you have your own collection of lullaby songs (I talk about my favorite lullaby album here), your kiddo might enjoy hearing familiar tunes.
You could, of course, quite literally play something yourself if you’re musically inclined. I recommend grabbing your guitar and softly strumming, preferably in an open prairie.
3. Make Sure They’ve Had Enough to Drink
An hour before bedtime, get some drinks in those kids! We started using a cutoff time for Kai once we began potty training, but we do this for our baby girl too. Nobody likes to have to pee in the night or sleep with a wet diaper…I mean, I assume.
What about juice, pop (as we say in the Midwest), sugary drinks, etc? Not allowed.
4. Build Forts
My husband is a master at this! I actually asked him for fort-building tips, and he said the key is to use sheets instead of blankets. So get creative and make something simple, or not so simple. (My husband’s forts have multiple rooms! I digress.)
All kiddos love forts (let’s face it, we love them too), and it automatically creates a small, cozy nook perfect for little ones. The winding down will happen just a little bit more naturally.
5. Diffuse Essential Oils
I recommend cedarwood, especially for kids who are extra energetic in the evening. Lavender is a no-brainer that’s perfect for after dinner, and orange is both very calming and uplifting as well. Put those three together, and you have a delightful blend that’s perfect for small ones. You can read about how to get started with essential oils here.
6. Do Some Stretching or Yoga Together
Have your child mimic your actions and lead her in some stretching, yoga poses, or your own creative slow movements (pretend you’re Mr. Miyagi if necessary). This will force your child to focus, help calm any haywire emotions, and teach her to move slowly when she needs to tame her energy.
7. Try an Early Bath and Pajama Time
We do this with Kai when he’s on the edge emotionally. We make it a wonderful, fun, cozy time and act like putting on pajamas early is the most amazing thing he’ll ever experience. He loves it and it reduces potential bedtime routine struggles. This isn’t the same as going to bed early, it’s just starting the process earlier than normal. Your little one will feel extra comfy as you spend your evening together. I’d only recommend doing this every once in awhile, so it remains special.
8. Connect with Your Kiddo
This is really the most important tip.
One thing that I think sets our kids off is when they haven’t had enough time connecting with us. So we try to spend that time after dinner doing some of their favorite things.
If your kids need to burn off some energy, go on a walk around the block, chase them around the house, or play with them in the yard. If they need to slow down, try a little pre-bedtime reading–like maybe one of those longer books that you can’t fit in during the bedtime routine.
No matter what you do, try to make it a time that’s focused on them.
These ideas are what works for us, and I think they will probably work for you too. It’s all about connecting with and creating a calm atmosphere for your kids. Put this list in your back pocket for a time when you really need it…like probably tonight.