I was fortunate as a young mother to have an excellent role model. Shortly after moving from California to Great Falls, MT, I was hired to teach fourth grade, and Shel taught down the hall. Her girls were in preschool when we met, and my daughter Tory had just turned one. Shel already knew WAY more about parenting than I did, and her common-sense, "raise a valuable member of society" approach influenced me in a positive way for many years. Above is the birthday card I drew last year for Shel. It's "Zentangle-insprired Art" which I had just begun playing with (see zentangle.com for more info.) Today is Shel's birthday, and I dedicate this post to her and our many years of friendship.
|Ray, Andy, Shelly, and baby Robin. Ray and Robin were best buds - look at them goofing around! Robin would have been one year old in this picture; the State Fair was in our town so we must have gone after naptime!|
Raising kids is sometimes a pain. One thing that took me years to come to peace with? Naptime. Babies can often be toted around in their carseats during naptime with no adverse affects, allowing mommy the option of getting out of the house. Toddlers and preschoolers, though, still need naps (they need 14 hours of sleep a day; it’s unlikely they’ll get it in one stretch) and through experience, I learned that it’s far better to plan ahead for naptime than to end up with a cranky kid, half asleep in the car on the way home, with only a few hours until bedtime, who remains cranky and can’t settle down when bedtime does arrive.
So, tied to my house I was. As I said, I eventually ended up making peace with naptime. Think about it: three hours of enforced quiet time at home. What’s not to love?!
I finally began to enjoy naptime after my friend Shel helped me realize that Tory needed a routine. (Tory was one of those kids – and still is – who likes to know what the plan is. Don’t spring surprises on this girl unless you want a meltdown.) A routine settled her down, got her ready for bed, and defined expectations for that part of her day. It’s comforting (to many of us, in fact) to know what's coming next. Routines provide that comfort.
|Andy reading to Tory (and Pooh, can you spot him?) Look at her sweet face. November 1994.|
Our Bedtime Routine
(Bedtime for our kids was early, and didn’t get even close to 9:00 until they were in 4th grade.)
2. When both of us were home, we did a reading rotation. Dad would go to Robin’s room while I went to Tory’s room, then we’d switch. When Robin got older, we would read chapter books together in the living room instead, but that was a modification of the routine and modifications must be made with care. More on that below!
3. Each child got two books read aloud – one by Mom and one by Dad. The kids chose the books from their bookshelves or from the library box o’ books. (Yes, we wheeled our books in and out of the library every week. That’s another story.) Until the kids got loft beds, we climbed right into bed with them, leaning against the headboard, sitting right next to the child so both parent and child could see the pictures and words.
4. After the two books were read, we’d leave them with bedside lamp on and another book in hand. Ten or fifteen minutes later, we’d go in, kiss the kids goodnight, tell them we loved them, and turn out their lights if they hadn’t already. We also had kid-friendly tape players in each room. Tory loved Disney music and Kenny Loggins’ House at Pooh Corner. Robin, even as a young boy, listened to John Williams’ movie scores and classical music. The tape players were at a low volume and would turn themselves off when the tape was finished.
You might notice that this routine lacks some common bedtime behaviors.
1. There is no arguing about it being bedtime. It simply is bedtime, and the whole family is involved in the process. (Even when we had friends over, we would let the kids take care of their own jammies and teeth, but we would pause for fifteen minutes to go in and read the kids their books, or one of us would stay with guests while the other read. It’s part of not varying the routine.) When everyone is working toward the same goal, there is less wiggle room for arguments.
2. The process is designed to be comforting and quieting. There is no tickling (incidentally, tickling is verboten in our house. Always has been. I think it’s cruel.) There’s no running around screaming. No loud music or TV playing.
3. No bedtime snack. After all, since we have an early bedtime, we just finished eating a nice meal not long ago.
4. No getting up for a glass of water. (Tory tried to adapt the routine once by having us bring her a sip of water. After three nights we realized what she was doing, and we decided we didn’t want to add to the routine, so we told her she needed to drink her water when we brushed teeth, and declined to bring her a sip of water from then on.)
5. No one is screaming at the kids, “I told you to go to bed an hour ago!” Because everyone is involved, the work gets done. It’s a group effort. That’s a large part of what makes it work.
2. In bed, Mom reads one book to Tory and one book to Robin. (Only one book at naptime because only one parent is home.)
3. Child reads for a few more minutes in bed.
4. Mom comes in to say “It’s time to lie down now,” give a kiss and hug and say, “I love you,” and to turn on the tape player. We never had super-dark blinds, but we would close the curtains to darken the room somewhat.
Giving up naps
When it looks like your child is getting ready to “give up naps” I would encourage you to rethink that. Most kids will nap through age four and many will still, given the opportunity, nap at age five or even longer. They need to know it’s still okay to nap and that their bodies need sleep to be healthy, and they need you to provide the time, place, and routine for that to happen.
There were several times that it looked like my kids were giving up naps. Each time, we had a week or so where the routine worked like clockwork except for the falling-asleep part. Here’s my secret weapon: a simple kitchen timer set for ten minutes. After step four of the routine, child (usually Robin) would say, “But I’m not sleepy.” My response: “That’s okay, but you need to lie here and rest until the timer goes off. It’s okay if you don’t sleep, but your body needs some time to relax and rest, and Mommy needs ten minutes to rest, too.” There were very, very few days when he would still be awake when I snuck back in to grab the timer before it went off. On those days, I’d sigh and say, “You may play quietly in your room, but you may not bother me or your sister, who is napping.” The thing is, by this time I had come to love those hours every afternoon when my mommy duties were temporarily suspended. And not only that, but I KNEW those kids need their naps! I was just helping them get what they needed, right?
This routine is the bomb. It is easily transportable to a hotel, Grandma’s house, or while camping in a tent. It provides for read-aloud time EVERY DAY, which is a huge predictor of success in school. It only takes a half-hour. It creates an atmosphere of family teamwork. Most of all, it works. And guess what? It works for babysitters, too. I had our routine all written out and posted on the fridge for our teenage babysitters, and they always told me that it was so much easier to put my kids to bed than kids at other houses. It’s ROUTINE and everyone KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT TO EXPECT. When you do it every day, it’s comforting and effective.
|It doesn't always have to be Mom or Dad doing the reading, nor does it always have to be a book! Here's Grammy enjoying Your Big Backyard magazine with Robin and Tory, December 1994.|
Modifying the Routine
Something to watch out for: some kids are sometimes smarter than their tired, stressed-out parents. They will try to add pieces to the routine to draw out the process of bedtime. Earlier, I mentioned Tory trying to add the “bring me a sip of water.” I’m not opposed to a kid having a drink of water, but consider every addition to the routine carefully. Tory also negotiated the number of books we would read: “Well, this one is really short so I really believe you should read me two short books instead of one long book.” Some days, it’s okay to say yes to a request like this, especially if it’s phrased as a request rather than a demand. On the days I would say yes, though, I would add, “Just because I’m reading two books today does not mean that I will always read two books.” (Dang it, Tory, I’m the Mom here and I will determine what gets added to the routine!)
Tory has remained a champion napper. She had half-day kindergarten and napped all that year (we specifically requested morning kindergarten because she was still napping in the afternoons) and in the summer before she began first grade, she came to me very concerned about how she would manage in first grade with no naps. I reminded her that she could nap on weekends, and we agreed that she could come straight home from school and climb into bed if she wanted, especially those first few weeks. Most weeks, she would manage pretty well. Without fail, though, every Thursday, she would collapse and take a long nap. Even into high school, if I came home on a Thursday afternoon and didn’t see Tory around, I’d know she was in bed.
Napping is an important part of a child's growth and development. Good parents try to do the best for their kids: we give them healthy food, safe places to play, and teach them to make good choices. Let's protect their sleeping time as well. Quality sleep time (14 hours, remember!) doesn't happen without a little effort. All those years of being at home from lunchtime to around 4:00? That's a gift I gave my babies.
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