Getting them to Sleep ... Bedtime Rituals
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
April 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
April 2011

We all know it's important to get our kids to sleep.  It's important for their health and day-time functioning, and it's important for us to get our own grown-up quality time. 

The best way to get them to sleep (aside from tiring them out, drugging them or knocking them unconscious - the latter two being highly frowned upon) - is to establish a bedtime ritual.  Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
  1. Establish a bed time.  If you have more than one child, you may want to set up the same bedtime for all of them, you may want to allow the older kids a bit more time (for homework and winding down).  I will end this here for now, but if you find you want more suggestions and guidelines on how to establish realistic bedtimes, please let me know.
  2. Wind-down alert.  Let your kids know that in 30 minutes they w ill need to start getting ready for bed. This will help them wind down what they are doing, getting their school and night-time things in order.
  3. Getting ready for bed. This may mean putting toys and things away, setting out clothes and school things for tomorrow, bathing, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, and choosing a good-night story.
  4. Bedtime stories. 
    • Bedtime stories, in my opinion should be read aloud (or told) by others.  This allows them to hear a soothing voice and tune out other tensions/noises (without stressing about sounding out words).
    • Bedtime stories should be calm and soothing.
    • Bedtime stories can be old stories or new stories, chapter books, poems, or they can be favorite family stories retold.
    • Kids should be in bed (or at least on bed) and ready to go to sleep when the story is told/read.  
  5. Final tuck-in with kiss (bedtime prayer and/or song suggested) and lights out. This final step is really important.  It is nurturing, comforting and reassuring and it signals that it is now time to sleep. 
The value of the bedtime story:  This is important on so many levels.
Emotionally:  It is nurturing which helps them calm down and helps build relationships.  It is also a nice ending to a possibly stressful day and chores.
Language:  Listening to stories helps incorporate sounds and rhythm of language (important when learning to read).  They are exposed to diverse vocabulary, to different format and genres of print, and they hear rhymes and language patterns.
Cognition:  Listening to stories helps kids learn about other worlds, relationships, cause and effect, and sequences.  They are exposed to different places and different times.  They can brainstorm and predict what will happen or figure out why something did happen.

A note on re-reading and re-telling stories:  Young kids especially love hearing stories over and over again.  This is a good thing.  They incorporate the language and the content of the story.  They like hearing and rehearing it because they know what's going to happen.  It is comforting and reassuring.  Rereading certain books bored me to tears, but they loved it and at times, I'd have my kids help me "read" the story (even before they could read).

[Please see previous posts on reading aloud and departing the text for more on this.]

Some of my family's favorite bedtime stories:
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Goodnight Opus by Berkeley Breathed
  • Barn Dance by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
  • A Wish for Wings that Worked by Berkeley Breathed
  • Brian Jacque's Redwall Series
  • Dealing With Dragons Series by Patricia Wrede
  • Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three and Chronicles of Prydain
  • My Father's Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • Many Moons by James Thurber
  • Abiyoyo by Pete Seger
  • Thundercake by Patricia Polacco
  • The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  • The Happy Hocky Family by Lane Smith
  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • There's A Nightmare In My Closet by Mercer Mayer 
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

What are or were your favorite bedtime stories?  How do you set up bedtime rituals?

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