About two weeks before my daughter started kindergarten, we started a new bedtime routine. Here's how it works: About a half hour before suppertime, I announce that it's time to start cleaning up toys. Groans. Not already! So the sometimes painful process starts. By the time I have supper on the table, it's between 5:30-5:45. The toys are reasonably tidied up (I always have to help mediate this task toward the end), hands are washed, and we're ready to eat.
After supper, my husband washes up the dishes, I wash up the kids (if it's a bath night), and get the jammies on. At this point, no more independent playing goes on in the house. This sounds so harsh when I write it, but it's not. By the time everyone is dressed in their PJs, teeth are brushed, it's 7 o'clock. Bedtime is 8 o'clock. So in that hour, the kids have a few choices. If table behavior was substandard, the hour before bed is spent quietly looking at books. If suppertime went smoothly- which is happening more and more these days - (no spilled milk, no making faces or nasty comments about the meal) we play a low key game or two. Go Fish, The Memory Game, etc. We try and keep the energy level calm. After the games, we read bedtime stories, everyone makes one more pit stop in the bathroom, and it's tuck in time. No more tears, no more "Mommy, I need you to snuggle me." Lights out. It's our routine, and the kids expect it now.
We started it for a few reasons. First of all, I didn't want to send my daughter to school tired every day. School takes a lot of energy, so an early bedtime is necessary. In the past, we were bad bad bad about set bedtimes. Sometimes, no, oftentimes, it would be 10 o'clock before the kids were in bed. So we had to set up, and stick to, a bedtime. Out of a hat, I picked 8 o'clock. Another reason for change was just for me: I was falling asleep with the kids, while going from bed to bed and snuggling the one crying the most. It was crazy. I wasn't reading books anymore, I wasn't quilting, I wasn't getting enough alone time. This was making me cranky, as you can well imagine.
So we started this routine. And I LOVE it. Absolutely love it. I've learned that it is possible (and necessary, in order to stick to the schedule) to get dinner on the table at a set time. It's great having zero toys on the floor, once the kids are in bed. I love my children, but I get so excited every evening when everyone is in bed! With my "extra" time, I've been able to put together a quilt top that has been in my mind for well over a year. I'm not one to hand out advice, but if you're having bedtime struggles, try setting up a routine. But be sure that you're willing to stick with it. It just might make for a happier family, all around. I feel like a religious zealot, but I can't recommend doing this enough. It has changed our evening dynamics in such a positive way.
I could not agree more Stuntbec. Starting school changed everything for our family. We were in the habit of lying down with our children or letting them go to bed in our bed and moving them later-it made for a long and cranky bedtime and an even crankier morning. It's hard to imagine, but little kids especially need nearly 12 hours of sleep and most adults need way more than we're getting too. A friend of mine who is a family therapist says one of the first questions she asks parents who are concerned about their child's behavior is "tell me about their sleep habits and bedtime routine."
I think many families (with and without two working parents) might have a hard time with 5:30 dinner unless you feed the kids separately, but establishing a consistent and early bedtime routine can be done.
Although I am not a fan of routine in most cases, I do like the sound of your bedtime. I too have started having the kids pick up toys at the end of the night, but that is their after dinner activity. I will say your reward system for a peaceful dinner time is brilliant. I'm going to start that since we have bears at mealtime frequently. Great solutions!
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