Issy, known to her young family, and her Instagram followers as Mummy Scrummie is a Hampshire-based mum of two and brand rep for Catkin Toys. Every Sunday, Issy will be writing a guest blog feature, covering the parenting topics and issues that interest you! Have a topic you'd like to hear more about? Get in touch!
The Bedtime Routine
The first rule of parenting is: you do not tell new parents about real-life parenting. The second rule of parenting is: you DO NOT tell new parents about real-life parenting!
It’s an unspoken rule, but one universally accepted (implemented, presumably because nobody would ever agree to have children otherwise!) that new parents do not need to hear the truth about parenting.
They don’t need to know, whilst they bask in the fuzzy-hearted feeling of cradling their baby, that never again are they going to be able to poo in private; that gone are the days of wearing white clothing; that, if they ever get the chance to eat a snack, it’ll have to be done hiding behind or actually in a kitchen cupboard, and that over the next decade or so, they are going to spend a gargantuan proportion of their time persuading someone smaller than Dobby the house elf to “JUST CHUFFING WELL GO TO SLEEP!”
The Bedtime Routine is the kryptonite of parents. Children are absolute rotters when it comes to sleeping. From the first night they spend at home, these pint-sized people, adorable and lovely as they are, seem determined to be as inconvenient as is humanly possible to you and your established routine!
As babies, they want to sleep on their terms and no one else’s. Then come the “Bop ‘til They Drop” years where, as toddlers they will keep going until their chubby little bodies physically cannot take anymore and they fall super-soundly asleep, face down in their mac ‘n’ cheese (true Little Miss Scrummie story). Then: the Kevin and Perry era of the schoolchild; during which they don’t want to go to sleep “ever AGAIN!”, because Tiny Person FOMO is a very real thing.
This week, I’m giving you my top tips to make the bedtime routine in your household, as easy as falling off a bike (and, yep, that’s another thing that’s going to happen a lot; I recommend arnica cream for bruises!) …
My very first words of wisdom on the matter: be consistent. Okay, I know, you’ve heard it 150 times already, but in my opinion, it really is the best way to teach your children what you expect of them when it comes to bedtime. If you treat the rules as though they are flexible, so will your small person!
Now, I’m not saying you have to run a Captain Von Trapp style operation, but children respond to regularity and, as boring as it is for us adults, doing the same thing, night after night, can be a real source of comfort to your little one.
So. What’s my routine and why do I think it works well?
- Baby Bedtime
Littlest (1) has his tea between 4 and 4:30 pm every day; he then has some quiet play time. Some evenings I will give him a bath (unless you have a particularly pongy baby, do not feel you need to bath them every night; excessive bathing has been shown to actually aggravate young babies’ skin – particularly if you live in a hard water area!), brush his teeth (all 4 of them!) and then change him in to his jammies and his sleeping bag*.
*A note here, I really recommend sleeping bags for young children; firstly, because they are proven to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and secondly because, if done every night, zipping Bubba up into their sleep sack is a really clear sensory signal to them that it’s time for bed; they can’t wriggle around too much and they’re cosy and warm. I found this particularly useful with my two once they were weaned and weren’t relying on a snoozey breastfeed to nod off.
Once in his sleeping bag, I read Littlest a bedtime story.
A word on bedtime stories. I used to be an actor for a living; I’m passionate about exciting and engaging reading; however, baby bedtime is not the time to showcase your vocal range and portfolio of accents and impressions (and I think this is a mistake parents often make) reading to your baby at bedtime needs to be as unexciting as you can get away with making it!
Pick a short picture book story (my Littlest likes the “That’s Not My...” range and the “Where’s Mr/Mrs... animal” series: that provides some tactile sensory element for Baby, but that isn’t overly-stimulating. You need to read in a slow, steady and calming voice; think M&S Food voiceover (but perhaps marginally less sexy!) and you’re in the right ball park.
If you’re using a dummy as a sleeping aid, you can deploy that after your story, before popping Baby down in their crib/cot. Personally, I swear by a few minutes of soporific lullaby music and a gentle light show; again; from a sensory point of view, these things really help to signal to Baby; it’s time to wind down and sleep.
I’m not going to get in to different types of sleep-training now, (is this something you’d like to hear about in another blog?) but, whatever your approach, I believe that sticking to this shape of regular routine is half the battle when it comes to getting Baby to sleep, and staying asleep(!) for a decent chunk of the night.
- Big Girl/Boy Bedtime
Big Girl Bedtime, as it’s known in my house, begins with a progressive winding down from around the time her little brother is finishing up his tea.
I often find that parents are upset that their older children just aren’t calm enough, come bedtime, to actually go to sleep. Again, as boring as it may be for the adults involved, the key here is regularity and starting that ‘bedtime signalling’ early enough in the evening.
Having finished school at 3pm, Little Miss will come home, have a snack and play for about an hour and half. We then sit down together to read whatever book she’s been sent home with from school, and to practice her phonics. This works really well for us: she’s had the time to let off any pent-up energy playing whatever and however she wants to since she came home, so she’s nice and calm, and able to concentrate and enjoy reading.
After we’ve read, she’ll have her supper at about 5pm, and because she’ll have had hot lunchtime meal at school, she’ll have a smaller meal at home: something like beans on toast. Children, just like us adults, don’t want to feel hungry at bedtime, but they also don’t want to be so stuffed that their little digestive systems are working overload at a time in the evening when they need to be relaxed. After her supper, it’s Big Girl Bath Time. Now that she’s at school, I find Little Miss needs a bath most nights, so although she’ll be joined in the tub by Littlest a few nights in the week, most of the time, she has about 15-20 minutes to play at being a mermaid in the tub, whilst her father or I scrub away the layers of snot, mud, glue and glitter that are apparently part of the uniform in Reception Class.
Again, I try to keep a mellow vibe going throughout bath time; we’ll chat about how her day has gone: what she liked about it and what she didn’t. I find playing up the “We have to keep the noise down because your brother has gone to bed” factor helpful in two ways: firstly, because it means that she’s less inclined to get loud and/or splashy (which in turn means that she’s calm and not over-excited) and secondly, because it plays into her sense of being a ‘Big Girl’, who gets to stay up a bit later than her little brother. Despite the fact that it’s only a little after 6 o’clock, she feels like she’s getting a better deal!
Bath done and dusted, hair dried and teeth brushed, it’s into jammies and time for a story. You’ll notice I’ve used the words: “time for a story” as opposed to “time to read a book” because it’s important to remember that this time isn’t for your child to hone their reading skills per se (and you want to avoid what they may see as overly-strenuous concentration before bedtime), it’s more about sharing and enjoying a story together at the end of the day, something they will find relaxing.
Young children are notorious for their dodgy decision-making and choosing a book to read at bedtime is where this little quirk seems to come out to play most of all. I’ve found that, in order to avoid falling in to the trap of “I would like to read this one... No, this one... Actually no, that one”, it helps, before you even approach the bookshelf, to limit the vastness of the choice available to your small person. For example, on Mondays ask your child to pick a book about an adventure, on Tuesdays: a story about animals; on Wednesday it’s the turn of a rhyming book and so on. Doing this enables your (hopefully by now, quite sleepy) child to make an independent choice, it gets them thinking about different types of stories/genres and how they feel about them and – perhaps most importantly of all - it avoids you having to read ‘Stick Man’ 43 nights in a row.
As per my advice for Baby Bedtime, no matter how thrilling, funny, or silly the story (I’m looking at you ‘Supertato’...) it’s important that you read in a calm voice and at a slow enough pace. I read to Little Miss, both of us tucked up in her bed, by the light of her bedside table lamp and I think this is helpful too; it’s not too bright and she’s able to snuggle up under her duvet, literally ready for sleep.
Then, I’ll switch her GroClock to the night-time setting and have a cuddle and quiet, final chat about any plans for the following day. By the time I put her night sky ceiling projection lamp on, she’s often already nodding off.
Now, my children are not perfect sleepers, and I get as much of the creepy waking up to find your spawn hovering inches away from your face, determined to show you at precisely 4am, that they’ve found a ballet shoe, a fork and the long-lost Yoto card case for ‘Paddington’ in their bed, but – on the whole, they’re pretty good, and I credit a large part of this to the calm, regular, and utterly, utterly boring bedtime routine I march them through each evening.
So, if you’re finding bedtime a struggle; why not give the Scrummie method a go? Or, if you think you might just be a bedtime baby whisperer; what are your top tips? As always, I love, love, love to hear from you, so do let me know your thoughts.
Until next week...!