Bedtime stories: and how I accidentally made our bedtime routine easier.
Some of the best things were invented accidentally: chocolate chip cookies, the Slinky, and even pacemakers, for example. (Wow!)
One special night during our standard bedtime routine, I accidentally invented a magical pillowcase. My then- four-year-old child was nestling down after her bedtime story, and suddenly didn’t want her blanket. Or a sheet. She wanted something different: in her words, “just a little blanket to match my little body, but a light one.” Fumbling through my linen closet to see what we had, I grabbed a king-sized pillowcase. I brought it to her and it was exactly the size she had in mind.
Feeling sleepy, she inquired, “Did you fill it full of extra hugs and snuggles and kisses?”
Even now that she’s almost six, she still sleeps with her magical pillowcase every night after bedtime stories. Knowing that she’s holding a pillowcase full of my love has made bedtime a peaceful and happy time. She still asks about the hugs, snuggles, and kisses. They’re always in there, of course. It’s the kind of sweetness that makes me fall in love with her all over again.
Of course, we still use bedtime stories and a consistent bedtime routine to set the stage for a peaceful night.
Good sleep habits are important, as everyone knows (and as the National Sleep Foundation reminds us, too). Fortunately, there are many gentle ways, and effective sleep routines, to promote hitting the hay. We’ve used the same routine, plus or minus some tweaks, since she was two. She’s almost six now.
Our bedtime routine takes 30 to 60 minutes. I plan for the long version and that reduces my anxiety about what I “need to get done” afterwards.
Here’s our bedtime routine in a nutshell.
After dinner, even now that my child is older, I carry her upstairs. (Yes, many would say she’s too big for this, but I’ll do it as long as my body lets me and she wants me to do it.) She puts on her jammies, we say prayers and sing lullabies and brush teeth and go potty. We do the steps in the same order every night, and I conclude with a special saying about love that I’ve told her every night since she was born.
As for the bedtime stories she’s consistently found most peaceful and relaxing, here’s our list.
- I Love You. My child has always called this “the loving book.” Who doesn’t want to fall asleep feeling connected and loved? It’s four stories in one, so we pick and choose depending how much time she needs to wind down.
- Dormouse and His Seven Beds. This one has been great for when we’ve slept together in the same room; Dormouse just wants to be near someone, as does my child at times. It’s comforting to her. Appropriate for both co-sleepers and independent sleepers, it’s a very sweet book that promotes compassion, connection, and understanding.
- Spoon. Another co-sleeping favorite with some laughs, too, I’ll give you one hint how Spoon himself likes to snuggle (look at his name).
- The Perfect Nest. Perfect for snuggling to sleep. The “babies” the main character adopts aren’t who you’d expect, but their snuggles are so sweet. It’s one of my child’s favorites and has been for years.
- The Invisible String. This one has been helpful for any kind of separation day or night, including the times I haven’t stayed in the room for my child to sleep. She knows we’re connected even if I’m not physically there.
- The Going to Bed Book. We started reading this bedtime story when my child was a young toddler and she still asks for it sometimes, years later. It’s sweet and simple.
- All By Myself. This is another good bedtime story about growing up, including a page that, be it directly or indirectly, promotes independent sleep (at least in concept if not in reality).
Once we’re done with the other steps, I crawl under the covers with her and we talk about whatever she wants to for about 15 minutes. I often ask her the three questions that I’ve written about previously. Then she gets into what she calls her “sleeping position.” We say “Night night, I love you, sweet dreams” several times at her request. I give her a hug and a kiss, then out the door I go. She falls asleep on her own a couple of minutes thereafter.
If she can’t sleep, she calls me, usually for “one more question.” I come back, answer her question, and give her an extra hug and kiss. Repeating that part of the bedtime routine, when necessary, is very calming for her. She trusts that I’ll always return if she needs me. Reading a book (usually from the aforementioned list of bedtime stories) is a great activity to help my child relax. We repeat them because a routine is, well, routine.
Some bedtime routines don’t work for us. Here’s what we learned.
Watching TV is what my husband does to wind down. My child and I can’t look at big screens for at least a couple of hours before bed. It’s just too stimulating for us. Bedtime baths don’t work for my child, either—also too stimulating. Some people listen to music to wind down. Not us, for the same reason (plus, it keeps “playing” mentally and causes trouble falling asleep). I remember not being able to “count sheep” when I was little—they just kept jumping, and I didn’t know how to “turn them off.” 🙂 A lullaby and bedtime story are enough for us.
Some people find that playful roughhousing with their kids helps them relax, but that’s not our story. I absolutely will be upbeat and loving, and in a calm way, playful. Positive connection of any kind makes for a very good bedtime routine.
Call us sensitive people because, well, we are. Calm is a good thing for us.
Know what’s developmentally normal and give your child (and yourself) grace.
Creating a bedtime routine that promotes good sleep habits, in a safe and loving environment, helps reduce sleep problems now and down the road. Know what’s developmentally normal, too—some kids, especially babies, naturally wake in the middle of the night.
Want to know something? I’m an adult and I wake up at night, too. I’d stay asleep if I could and suspect the same is true for my child. As adults, we never know when a child has a growing pain, an impending illness, a growth spurt, a developmental leap, or a jolting dream that’s hard to separate from reality. Kids wake up for lots of completely valid reasons.
A child learns to sleep one way or another; and my parenting style is to respond to my child whenever she needs me. I don’t write that judgmentally; I share it to let you know you’re not alone if you’re doing that and getting pushback from anyone. Nighttime parenting is parenting, too.
May everyone in your family have sweet dreams tonight!
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