How Our Nighttime Routine Changed the Game
This isn't anything new, and this isn't any crazy revelation as a mom, but routines are important. We knew that. It just didn't stick until recently. And it was a total game-changer.
When Caroline was under a year old, we had a routine pretty solid, but she was so happy-go-lucky, that if we didn't stick with it strictly, she would be fine and nap in the car or wherever we were. However, once we crossed into the Terrible 2's Territory, that wasn't the case anymore. Naps became a thing of the past, or they happened way too late in the day, she'd take weird-length naps in the car on long drives and it would throw off her bedtime. If she napped, she would be up until 11pm. If she didn't nap, she'd be grumpy and eventually crash on the couch around 9:30pm. There was no real structure. And it was killing me slowly.
Not having a routine and real bedtime was cutting into any "me" time that I needed at night to get my thoughts together, clean and straighten the house to reset for the next day, and just give my brain a break from constant momming. I found myself getting really frustrated with Caroline at night and in turn she would reciprocate and by the time Brian got home, we'd be worn out and really frustrated with each other - simply because there was no structure.
But that changed. I read a bunch of articles about how to introduce a new routine, how to stay firm in getting the routine to stick, and how to make it a pleasant experience. I talked with my mom (who has 27+ years of experience working with kids and a background in psychology) about some best practices, and after a little push-and-pull, got Brian on the same page. With his schedule being late nights, long days, odd days off... it was harder to enforce a strict routine. But now that I am home everyday and we are preparing for a new baby, it's much easier to get bedtime down to a science. In fact, we have a 3-step routine that works like a charm.
Start With Something They Love
Preparing for bedtime with something your kids love will make the process much easier. And if it's something that can make them tired but also be calming, that's even better. For us, we start with bath time. And it's kind of a longer bath time than if we were to do a bath in the morning. Caroline loves playing in the water and playing with all the toys in the bathtub, but it's also a way for her to relax and wind down a little. There are no external distractions, no screens, no loud noises. We are big believers in the Johnson & Johnson baby wash, and they make a few different options for soap that we use to help get ready for bedtime - if it's been a long day with some tantrums, we will use the Soothing Vapor Bath which has calming scents and soothing but is not overpowering. For days when Caroline isn't acting too sleepy but is still in a great mood, I love to use the Bedtime Bath soap. which smells like lavender. Everyone has their favorite soaps and bath products, but these work great for us!
Quiet Time & Soothing Atmosphere
After bath time, we go in Caroline's room and only use 1 lamp, not her overhead light so it starts to encourage a nighttime vibe. Once she's in her pajamas, we turn on her sound machine or humidifier (depending on the time of year) and get in bed. The white noise really helps throughout the night to drown out any sounds from outside or in the house that might make her stir.
Another way we keep things very routine is by reading the same books before bed. Instead of switching out books every night, we stick to the same few books each week, and change the books out one at a time. This helps keep the routine very similar each night. It works for us because Caroline gets so into the books that if we change the books every night, she gets really excited and worked up instead of calmed down.
End With Consistency
Ever since Caroline was just a few weeks old, I have sang the same lullabies to her when she's cranky, fussy, or before bed. This not only got her used the same songs each night, but acted as a soothing mechanism and the repetition was instilled as "it's time to sleep now." Find what works for your child, but I hum two lullabies each night, and usually halfway through the second, she's asleep. Only occasionally will I have to add an extra verse or repeat a song - this happens most often when she gets a nap and isn't totally exhausted by the time bedtime rolls around.
With this routine in place, Caroline has been asleep between 8:15pm and 8:25pm each night, without fail. Of course, around the holidays there are always exceptions to the rule (if we are visiting family or having company), but on regularly scheduled days this is what works. When we get home late from visiting friends or family, we will do a modified version - usually just a book or two and her lullabies and she's asleep, saving bath time for the morning.
I can't believe how much this has helped my mood, her mood, and how our days go much smoother now that we have a set schedule in place. I have my evenings back to reset the house for the next day, have some alone time with hubby, and just relax and get my brain wrapped around everything that is going on in the following days or weeks. Moms need a break, and kids need sleep - so it's a win for everyone.
Our daily routine follows a rough outline, but with baby coming, we'll see how much that gets changed around!
I'll keep ya posted!