Thursday, April 28, 2011

Getting them to Sleep ... Bedtime Rituals

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 will 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 lullabies 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?


  1. Excellent post ... I use to work with Women, Infant and Children program. I counseled thousands of women on the importance of bed time routines and rituals for infants and toddlers (< 5 yrs old). I was always amazed and/or appalled so many toddlers stayed up later than their parents and went to sleep with the TV on in their rooms.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Good Night Moon is a standard at our house. I owe it many happy bedtime memories :)

  3. I think I can still recite Goodnight Moon by heart, and it's been years...

    The bedtime routine worked beautifully for one of my kids, the other had some other issues going on that made bedtime an absolute nightmare for many years. I thank my lucky stars each and every day that we're finally past the challenges we - and she - faced those earlier years.

    My photography is available for purchase - visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!

  4. Goodnight Moon and I Love You Forever and Guess How Much I LOve You? were the staples when my girls were younger. Honestly, I miss when I nursed them because that was the easiest way to get them to sleep! Ha!

    Now that they are 9 and 11 this is a struggle. They LOVE to read in bed. My 9 yo reads til her eyes get heavy (a half hour or less) then nods 11 yo can finish a book a night! I am caught between encouraging her love of books and telling her to turn out the light. The biggest issue is when she wants to come and "chat" at 11pm. I adore my kids, but by then I am exhausted and want to unwind myself.

    Got any tips for getting tweens to bed??

  5. Thanks for your comment on my blog! I love your I Need Your Help section in your margin! One of the reasons I blog is to get information and ideas...brainstorm with other moms. I am following you now :) and will be leaving comments!!

  6. Very Informative !! I guess it cud help me in my future ;)
    Thanks Meryl :)

  7. Thanks, Theresa. I do have help for getting 'tweens to bed. I will work a blog around it. Thanks - and I look forward to more comments.

  8. Meryl, this was such an excellent and informative post! While my little ones are all grown up, I still found myself nodding my head affirmatively as I read what you had written. Bedtime stories were compulsory in our home. There was never a night when my children didn't get to hear one story or another. Sometimes we read books and other times they would ask me to tell them a story. Sometimes I would make it up as we went along and even personalize them. They loved it when I did that! "Where the wild things are" was one of our favorites and Winnie the Pooh, our favorite character. I am now re-reading "The Tao of Pooh." :)

  9. Thanks, Bella for the comment. I also loved your point about making stories together too. We did that traveling - a lot - although usually not at bedtime because I wanted them to 'shut-down' so to speak and not keep thinking and creating. Still it is and was a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I always found that reading the more horrific stories from various Bibles - including, and especially, the Mormon - are effective, but.. . what-ever. . . ;P

    Lifesmart stuff.

  11. Great ideas for bedtime rituals! You are so right about the importance of it. Cheers.

  12. Thank you for stopping by! I love your blog and look forward to following you!

  13. I saw some of our favorites in your list! Goodnight moon was the very first bedtime book for all 4 of my kids. The barnyard was next, then board books by Sondra Boyton :) of course Pooh is right up there, too! :) Nice to 'meet' you, I'm visiting from the Friday blog hop, thank you for stopping by my place!

  14. My daughter is 2, and still nursing to sleep as well as getting a bottle of milk. So our routine is: diaper, pajamas, picking out books, bringing all the dolls to bed, laying down with book and bottle, reading, lights out, nursing to sleep. She has a revolving roster of favorites, but recent ones are "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" and "Pooh's Bees."

  15. Dear Beth,

    Those are great choices! I like your routine. Thanks for the comment.

  16. verty informative blog...i like. :)

  17. Great advice. Some of the books you listed are my favorites. I Love Goodnight Moon, The Napping House, and Where The Wild Things Are.


  18. Thank you much for popping by and sharing some good pointers for me to try out! I always appreciate help...


  19. Bedtime rituals are so important. In my experience as a teacher, students who had structure at bedtime performed so much better the next day. Plus, we parents need regular bedtimes for our sanity too! Great Post ... and Goodnight Moon is my all time favorite children's book :)

  20. I have 4 children and have never been any good at bed time. This is very helpful information. Plus, my four year old and I loved your Pooh videos.

  21. I am so happy! Hope the bedtime routines work for you.

  22. Hi,
    Thank you for stopping by our blog, I'm following you back. Have a great week.

  23. this is great. wish i had had these aids years ago.


  24. Thanks for finding me, I'm happily following you too :) although I am a little late.

    And one of my favorite books is the Nightmare in my Closet. Just so cute!

    Happy Monday!

  25. I find my favorites aren't always my son's (3 y.o.). But I keep asking about my favorites and putting them in his reading bin. I feel strongly about his choosing the books. The Napping House is one our new faves. I love all the different pattern aspects of the book (the changing light, the gradual changing perspective, the hints to who will climb on next). With my older - when he was a tween, we switches to listening to audio books. The Harry Potter series was excellent on audio.

  26. My husband and I also had favorites that our kids didn't always pick and we too chose to read their favorites. My last blog post was about options and opportunities - and the importance of giving kids choices, and read aloud books was an easy choice to give them - even if was the same book over, and over, and over again. Sometimes though, we would read their choice for the 110th time AND add one of ours. :-)

    Thanks for the visit.

  27. I think I failed this one. My parents had a bed-time policy, but if we wanted to read we were allowed an extra half hour. To this day, I read for half an hour at bedtime--for pleasure--and advocate the same to my students, especially those who are struggling with writing. And to this day I stretch the half hour as much as I possibly can, reading under the covers with a light while my hunny snores next to me.

  28. LOL! The joy of reading! Not at all sure you failed!

  29. I made a mixed CD for the Daughter, even before she was born, of pop sleep songs. I think it was Linda Ronstadt's version of Good Night that appears.
    At this point, there is no one or two books that stand out, though Seuss, Good Night Moon, and Sandra Boynton were on the list.

  30. This is a great article! I like your list of stories, too.

  31. Love 'There's a Monster in My Closet' and 'The Napping House' and 'Where the Wild Things' of course. Have you ever read 'Then the Troll Heard the Squeek'? I believe the author is Henke.

  32. One thing I have found that is not helpful at all is a "nice, relaxing bath"! So many people recommend a beth for kids to wind down, but I think it has the opposite effect!

    Now *I* personally wouldn't mind having a nice relaxing bath..... but I don't think that's what the 'experts' have in mind. LOL

  33. I enjoyed reading this article. PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from