One thing that I have learned in 4 and a half years of parenting is that there is no good time to sit down and do parenting “right”… by that I mean, parenting is done on the fly. If you wait for the right time to sit down and talk to your kids about money, sexuality, politics, etc… it will never happen. There are 24 hours in a day and you have many, many things to get done. Parenting gets done in between everything else, it gets woven in to the fabric of your day. The trick is to embrace it, embrace all those little teachable moments, and don’t wait until the “right” moment to really parent the way you have always intended to. At least, that’s what works for me.
Case in point, I realized I really needed to start opening up the lines of communication with my oldest when she turned 4. I’m very cognisant of the fact that if I want her to be the type of teenager who talks to me, I need to start laying the ground work for that now. It’s not a matter of waiting until she is 13, finding the “perfect” time to sit down with her to impart all of my knowledge of what the teen years can mean for a girl… because we all know how that one will pan out…
If I want her to one day come to me to talk, to ask questions, to share a funny story or two about her day, I need to start now. A little bit at a time, building that type of relationship, weaving it into the fabric of our day to day lives. When she turned 4 I had the idea to start utilizing our bedtime routine for this very goal, and it’s been a big hit!
I think all parents have a bedtime routine that they adhere to, as we all know how much young kids thrive on routine. I decided to add on this last little bit with my oldest and it’s been a fairly easy transition. It’s also something that my husband can easily participate in as well when he is at home. The only key is to actually follow through at the end of the day, when you are tired and touched-out and just wanting the kids to go to sleep so you can get all the cleaning done and summit laundry mountain… or eat chips and binge watch Netflix…. whatever floats your boat….
This extra little bit that I added, the 3 Questions Game, takes maybe an additional 10 to 15 minutes but it’s been so well worth it. I will go into the actual logistics of how I manage all this when parenting solo in a moment, but for now, here is our little routine:
1. Story time –
We always begin with a story. I let Little Bean pick out whatever one she wants, and we cuddle up with her on my lap. It’s been well documented the impact that reading to your children has. If you aren’t already utilizing a bedtime story tradition, I would highly encourage you to try it.
2. The 3 Questions Game –
If you want your young kids to participate in something, turn it into a game. This is the meat and potatoes of our little bedtime routine. Simply put, my daughter and I take turns asking each other 3 questions. These can be questions about anything and everything, and it’s getting more and more enjoyable/telling to hear both my daughter’s answers and the questions she chooses to ask me. I started out with really easy ones to get us started:
“What’s your favourite colour?”
“What’s your favourite movie?”
This made way for more open-ended questions, like my current standby:
“What was your favourite part of today?”
I love this time with her. I love hearing the things that stand out to her, the parts of her day that whizzed past my attention, but were important to her. It’s also been an easy way to get information out of her (sneaky mommy!) Not in a negative sense, but it’s usually during this time that she’ll start to open up and tell me about her day at preschool, who her favourite friends are, etc… I think the fact that we’ve turned it into a little game makes it easier for me to cue her and for her to open up. If you sit down and point blank ask a kid “how was your day?”…you’re usually either met with a blank stare, or a preschooler who attempts to tell you 18 things at once…
Alternately, it’s been really fun to hear the kinds of questions she chooses to ask me. It usually starts off with her repeating one or two of the questions I’ve asked her, but she usually always asks me at least one out of left field. One of the most popular topics is mine and my husband’s childhood. She wants to know what we were like when we were her age, which, when you are exhausted after a long day, is incredibly endearing. We often get asked if we went to preschool, what our favourite movie was, etc… It’s freakin’ adorable.
3. Prayers/ Mindful Thankfulness
I think it’s incredibly beneficial for anyone to practice gratitude. For us, we say a prayer at night thanking god for all our blessings. If that’s not your vibe, even talking over with your child what they are thankful for that day is a great idea. It’s also very telling when you let your child state what they are grateful for that day. Sometimes it’s family members, pets, having a nice warm house to live in, a new toy, etc… Again, it can be incredibly uplifting to hear your child say that she is thankful for her mommy and daddy after a long, trying day of tantrums.
After all that, it’s lights out and a song. I’m sure I don’t have many years left of singing to my kids, so I’m milking this one. Current favourites are “Part of your World” from The Little Mermaid and “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins… we are a Disney family.
It’s that 3 Questions Game that’s been such a great jumping off point for us. She’s 4 and a half now and she knows that bedtime is her time with us, her time to talk and ask questions with our undivided attention. I’m hoping that we can keep the momentum of this going as she gets older. By her teen years, she will have already spent years talking to us and asking us questions. Hopefully laying this groundwork now will help us all out in the long run.
If you currently have a crazy bedtime routine because you too have a “spirited” toddler, I got you boo… I got you… Here is the logistics of how I do our routine:
-If my husband is home then, after the whole bath time routine, we usually divide and conquer. But, if I am flying solo then I usually tackle the toddler first and then begin my little routine with the oldest.
-First, I send my 4 year old to her room to pick out a book for story time and wait for me in her room. She knows that if she leaves her room and interrupts her sister’s story, she loses her own story time. Sometimes she goes downstairs and starts playing with toys, but as long as she doesn’t interrupt her sister’s time, I let it slide.
-The toddler is usually HIGHLY uninterested in going to bed so I always read her a story and then tuck her in with some board books with the promise of returning as soon as I’ve tucked in her older sister. I then put up a baby gate in her doorway so that she cannot escape. This may horrify you, but it works for us. I’ve never had a problem with her trying to push the gate over or climb it, as I think she feels like she’s getting something “extra” by getting to stay up and look at books in bed with her light on. So far, it’s working. (I should probably mention that my kids have ZERO toys in their rooms, only books)
-I then go and do my little routine with my 4 year old. It all takes around 15 to 20 minutes or so.
– After tucking in the oldest I return to the toddler. At this point she is either bored of her books and ready for a cuddle and a lullaby, or she’s already snoring. If she’s still awake then we shut off the light, cuddle in the rocking chair for a bit and have lullabies, and then I tuck her in. By that point she is usually tuckered right out and ready for bed. I then leave the room feeling like I’ve just won a Nobel Prize.
I wish I was kidding, but having two content sleeping kids makes me feel like the most freakin’ accomplished person ever. It makes up for the days when one of them is sick and our routine gets thrown to hell in a hand basket. Or when there’s a full moon….
What do you guys think? Do you do something similar? What do your night time routines look like? Let me know if you try this little game out and what you think of it. xo