Article courtesy of PlayfulNotes.com
It’s 10 p.m. and the baby just fell asleep in my arms. My oldest son is running around the house instead of getting into the shower, and my husband looks at me with an exhausted look on his face.
I’m beyond tired, and I just want my son’s bedtime routine to end so I can finally go to sleep. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m so sleepy that I don’t have any energy to spend time with my husband and enjoy some well-deserved alone time after a busy day.
This is not how evenings usually look in our home.
But two weeks ago we went on a vacation and we decided to not follow our regular schedule anymore. We wanted to enjoy more outdoor time in the evenings to avoid the heat and this meant the kids staying up later than usual.
This made me realize (once again) how much the early bedtime we set more than one year ago benefited our family life.
It all started when my oldest son was in Pre-K, and we went through a period when his behavior was difficult to handle. In my attempts to find the reason behind his behavior I came across one article about the impact of early bedtimes on kids.
Ever since he was a toddler, we were pretty flexible about his bedtime. If he would nap longer in the afternoon, we would start his bedtime routine later. If we would have a family activity planned in the afternoon, we would all go to sleep later that day.
Although we always had a bedtime routine in place, we didn’t have a fixed bedtime set for him. For a while, it felt like this was working well for us.
But as my son grew up and he no longer napped during the day, the negative effects of the lack of structure when it came to his sleeping hours started to become more obvious.
This is when we decided to switch to an earlier (and fixed) bedtime for him, and this was one of the best parenting decisions we made!
It not only positively impacted his behavior, but it also make bedtime easier for us and offer me a much needed quiet time in the evenings.
After the baby joined our family, we did our best to keep a regular bedtime for both of them. Now both of them usually go to bed at 8 p.m., and we plan to keep this schedule in place because it works great for our family.
If you want to try switching to an earlier bedtime for your kids, I’ve gathered here all the tips that helped us implement this.
I will start by saying that when I first read about this, I was skeptical that it would ever work for my son. But it did!
It took a while to implement the earlier bedtime for him and turn it into a habit, but once that happened, things got a lot easier and this change benefited our whole family.
The benefits of an early bedtime for kids
For me, the best motivation for implementing this was reading about the benefits of switching to an early bedtime for kids.
Here are some of them:
positive impact on physical and mental health
improved emotional stability (that lead to better behavior)
better academic performance
fewer power struggles at bedtime (because the kids don’t get overtired)
fewer night wake-ups (for babies and toddlers)
more sleep hours (especially if the child needs to go to school in the morning).
You can read more about the benefits of an early bedtime in this article on CNN.com.
Also, the early bedtime has benefits for parents as well. After a busy day taking care of the kids, having a more relaxing and peaceful evening matters a lot!
How we switched to an earlier bedtime
We started by setting a bedtime that seemed appropriate for my son (who was a preschooler at that time). We decided on 8 p.m, and we set an alarm on my phone for every day at 7 p.m.
When the alarm sounded, my son knew that he had 20 more minutes to play (or do whatever he wants) before the bedtime routine starts. After the 20 minutes, we would start the bedtime routine (using a bedtime checklist), and did our best to finish it before 8 p.m.
In the first days, it was harder to convince him to stop playing or cooperate during the bedtime routine. We listened to his feelings, but we were consistent with enforcing the new rule, and he started to became more cooperative.
Sometimes, we still deal with power struggles, and this usually happens when he feels disconnected from us. What works great in this case is adding a connection ritual to our bedtime routine.
In that case, we start the bedtime routine at 7 p.m, when the alarm sounds, but we include a nice activity for us to do together at 7.30. This helps us connect before bedtime, and makes the whole evening more peaceful.
In the first 2 weeks, it was hard for my son to fall asleep at 8 p.m, because he was not used to going to bed so early.
To help him, I invited him to listen to audiobooks. We use Audible, and he loves listening to stories until he falls asleep.
Sometimes he wanted me to stay next to him, so we listened to the stories together. After a while, it became a lot easier for him to fall asleep soon after going to bed, and he no longer needed my presence.
A few more things that helped us turn the early bedtime into a habit:
my son doesn’t have any screen time a few hours before bedtime (except on our family movie night)
we try to engage the kids in relaxing activities before bedtime to help them calm down and prepare for sleep (here is a list of great activities for kids to do before bedtime)
as I mentioned before, when we face a challenging period when I notice more power struggles at bedtime, we add a connection ritual to our bedtime routine – this brings us closer and makes our evenings more peaceful (here are some bedtime ritual ideas you can try with your kids).
Less than a month after starting implementing the early bedtime (and being consistent about it), we saw the full benefits of this change.
My son had a better mood, our evenings were more peaceful, and I finally had a quiet time just for me every night.
Even if some nights it takes a while for my son to fall asleep, he stays in bed and listens to stories or plays quietly on his own.
We faced a few challenges after the baby was born (and our bedtime routine changed for a while), and also at the start of the lockdown (when falling asleep was a lot harder for my son because we stayed home all day), but overall we kept the same schedule ever since we started implementing it.
We make exceptions sometimes (e.g., if we go to the drive-in cinema late in the evening, if we are on vacation, or if we have a special family night), but otherwise we try to make our schedule in a way that allows us to keep this bedtime for the kids.
An alternative strategy: If your kids already have a fixed bedtime but it is later than you would want, you can gradually move it earlier in 15 minutes increments every 2-3 days. This will make the change easier for everyone, and give kids time to get used to the new schedule.
To be honest, I was afraid that this change will make our family life less fun or make us feel “trapped” in a fixed schedule. But this wasn’t the case at all! On the contrary, I feel that the early bedtime helps us have a more balanced family life.
Is the early bedtime right for your kids?
Of course, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to bedtime, and every family is different.
But if you feel that your family needs a change to make evenings easier and more peaceful, switching to an earlier bedtime can make a big difference!
It can take time and patience to implement this change, but it is worthwhile if you think about all the benefits it will bring to your family!
No copyright is claimed in this article and is posted under fair use principles in U.S. copyright laws. If you believe material has been used in an unauthorized manner, please contact us via email