I’m sure I’ve written about this before many times, but the bedtime routine is pretty much law in our house. We started a routine at bedtime with Ben when he was just five weeks old as a way of helping him to know that it was now night time and that he should be going to sleep. In no time at all our little pattern of bath, boob, book, bed had him going to bed at a regular time and settling himself to sleep without a problem and *touch wood* that has pretty much been the case ever since.
Over time our routine has evolved to meet the needs of our expanding family – the timings have changed, we don’t always have a bath, there’s definitely no boob featuring in there any more but the one thing which doesn’t change is that our bedtime routine always always always features a bedtime story.
This week I went down to London to meet up with Jo Frost – Super Nanny and a select group of bloggers to talk specifically about bedtime routines. Jo Frost is currently working as an ambassador for the Book Trust’s new Bath, Book, Bed campaign and as she explained to us on the day, she doesn’t put her name to things lightly. Although not a mother herself, Jo has been working with children and their families for 25 years and has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Her passion for helping families just shines through. She is so down to earth and easy to talk to as she instils confidence in parents that they do know what they’re doing. She talks in practical terms about how we can all make changes to our routines which will have a positive impact on both ourselves and our children.
In itself “Bath, Book, Bed” is nothing new, as Jo explained – a bath and bedtime story has been part of family life since forever! I know it was certainly how my bedtimes went as a child. However, it can be so easy to let things slide, when time is short and we desperately want our kids to be in bed so we can have five minutes peace, get the house straight, have a glass of wine . . . it can be easy to rush bedtime, to not bother with the bedtime story and to just hurry everything along to get our children into bed quickly. But this can easily turn round and bite us on the bum – I know my kids have a sixth sense when it comes to me being in a hurry and it’s like they slow down on purpose!
Jo talked about how we as adults need time to relax and switch off before bedtime – time to slow down and get ourselves ready for sleep. Unsurprisingly so do our children. She described how we should set the scene for our children, to remove distractions of the tv or ipad or noise from downstairs. Give them a bath to get that last bit of play and excitement out of their system whilst teaching good hygiene routines, get ready for bed and then snuggle up with a book to really relax and calm down before getting into bed. In addition to the extra cuddles and quality time that sharing a book can bring, the bedtime story also plays a significant role in your child’s education – you are teaching your child how to handle books, instilling a love of reading and language from an early age and teaching them empathy, about experiences which they might not otherwise be able to access – discovering places, people, things which are not common in their lives.
The power of a bedtime story should not be underestimated – it’s effects are far reaching from helping your child to settle down to sleep to giving you quality time with your little ones as well as impacting their language development and education as a whole – and I say this as a teacher as well as a parent. Sharing books with your children is one of the most important things you can do in my opinion.
As I said at the start of the post, this is something we have been doing with our children from the very start and as our family has grown and changed our bedtime routine has developed to accommodate this. For us bedtime is a full on family affair. Both parents play their part in getting all three children dressed and settled and into bed – partly because getting three children ready for bed is hard work but mainly because it’s just a really lovely way to end the day together. Even when we just had Ben, Dave and I would do his bedtime together – taking it in turns to read his story. More often now Dave tends to read the bedtime story as I’ve seen more of the children during the day than he has and it gives them some special time together.
Something Jo Frost was keen to emphasise during our meeting was that even if you’ve never had a bedtime routine before, it’s really not too late. Start tonight. Within a few days you will notice a difference. It doesn’t matter if sometimes it doesn’t work out, just go back to it and keep on going. Whilst our bedtime routine has been in place for years and years, this doesn’t mean we aren’t flexible – sometimes if we’re on holiday or one parent is away, things might be a bit different for a few days – we don’t give up, we just go straight back to normal. (That said, once you’ve got a routine in place, in our experience following it through on holiday can actually be a really helpful way of settling the kids down to bed in a strange place!)
During our conversation on Tuesday, another parent asked me how we managed to do a bedtime routine for all three children at the same time and did we read them all the same book? The answer is yes! We have a huge collection of picture books which we share at bedtime – these are kept separately on a shelf in Amy’s bedroom and are especially for bedtime. Sometimes we let the kids choose which story we have, sometimes we choose (especially if we’ve had Peace at Last five nights in a row). Sometimes we let Ben read the story to the girls, other times we all join in together. In fact on Tuesday night when I got home from London, all five of us joined in with a full on performance of Room on the Broom with me reading, Dave making sound effects and Amy doing some actions whilst Ben and Chloe joined in with the words – not quite the snuggly bedtime story I’d been speaking about that morning however it worked for us. Of course now Ben is a little older he stays up a bit later than the girls – usually he’s allowed an extra half an hour to read on his own in his room. This just means that we don’t end up dragging our bedtime routine out for hours and hours with staggered bedtimes – we do it all together and then Ben, being more grown up, benefits from a little bonus time with his light on. It works for us.
If you want to know more about setting an effective bedtime routine for your children you can sign up to the Book Trust “14 Days to Better Sleep” trial (which bloggers Amber and Al have already been trying out with their own children!)
Here’s to bedtime stories!