Every parent knows that as the evening approaches, so does the much-feared witching hour. Sure, everyone talks about the witching hour when it comes to babies, but the hours between sunset and bedtime can be some of the most battle-prone for toddlers (and let’s face it, even into the teen years). In our house, the lead-up to “good night” can either be filled with wonderful moments or mounting stress—I don’t want to eat that! No, I won’t go to the bath! 10 more minutes of play!
To help not only avoid fights but also make room for moments of connection and memory-making, there are five things I swear by in our night time routine with my son. From encouraging his love of reading to not being so rigid with the schedules, here are five hacks that have changed our family’s evenings.
Reading before bed is a beloved family past time around here. But after hearing one too many “please just five more books!”, we decided to put the reading in our son’s hands—literally. He just started kindergarten, and while he can definitely spot the occasional “the,” he’s not exactly at the full-on reading age. But to give a sense of independence and start developing the habit of reading before bed, we give him 15 to 20 minutes of alone reading time in his bed.
We like to give him options of books he’s familiar with—particularly the Little People, Big Dreams series, one of his favorites—that way, even if he’s not reading the words, he knows the story and is learning about amazing historical figures in an age-appropriate way. He’s so curious about my Brazilian upbringing, so his favorite right now is about Pelé!
We like to give him options of books he’s familiar with—particularly the Little People, Big Dreams series, one of his favorites.
The result: no more negotiating for me to come back in, and he usually falls asleep 10 minutes in, covered in books. He also looks forward to spending time with books every night on his own terms. While the process may push bed time back by 10 minutes or so, it’s time that’s well spent and, most importantly, stress-free.
2. Buy kids a nightstand lamp they can turn off by touch
Finding a nightlight that my son can regulate himself totally took away the “lights out” battle. Right when he made the switch from a toddler bed to a big boy bed, we bought him a nightstand and a lamp that turns on and off by touch. At first, I thought it would end up keeping him up because I expected him to be turning the light on and off all night long. But the exact opposite happened: He respected the limit and feels a sense of independence being the one in charge of his own “lights out.”
3. Start 30 minutes earlier than you think you should
We were starting our nighttime routine at 6:30 p.m. Sure, we were getting in bed by 7:45 p.m. and lights were out no later than 8:15 p.m., but it was all rushed, and we didn’t take time as a family to enjoy any of it. Dinner was rushed through without much talking, and bath time was an in-and-out situation.
When school started a month ago, we started sitting down for dinner at 6 p.m. Those 30 minutes made all the difference. Now, it doesn’t feel like a night on auto-pilot; we actually talk about our days or read a book or two at dinner time, and my son gets to enjoy bath time and has a few minutes before getting in bed to play with a puzzle or coloring book.
4. Turn to a meditation app
When my son is having a hard time settling down for bed, we let him choose a quick guided meditation that he can listen to while laying down. We’ve been using the Calm app for the last year, and it’s such a game changer. With quick 5-minute guided meditations and sleep stories galore, Calm really is a mom’s best friend at bed time.
Some of our favorites include a Thomas the Truck meditation series that encourages him to send “friendly wishes” to the people he loves and sleep stories with some of our favorite Trolls characters, Peppa Pig, Peter Pan, and even The Wizard of Oz. Pro tip: Check out the sleep stories for adults too—especially the ones narrated by Harry Styles and Regé-Jean Page of Bridgerton fame.
5. Above all, be flexible!
Honestly, I used to judge myself so harshly if we weren’t keeping up with a bedtime routine or if things didn’t go perfectly and we wound up getting to bed 30 minutes late. Sure, following a routine is incredibly beneficial, but we try to keep it fairly loose and flexible. If we are having fun at the park and want to stay an extra 20 minutes, no big deal—we’ll go to bed later. If it’s Friday and he wants to take a walk outside to see the moon in his PJs, sign me right up! Having a loose routine that gives room for flexibility and allows special spontaneous moments to happen is the key to stress-free nights.
This post was in partnership with Little People, Big Dreams but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.