Bedtime Routines

by Jody Pawel

Most parents know the basic "5 B's" of bedtime routines: bath, brush teeth, bathroom, books, and bed. To prevent bedtime struggles and delays, it is always helpful to offer choices about these basic steps. For example, children can choose whether to take a bath at night or in the morning, brush teeth before or after bathroom duties, and how many or which books to read.

Our family, however, has invented many other fun (but not too physical) games that we've added to these basics. We don't always have the time or inclination to do these games every night, but because we frequently make bedtime fun, our children don't resist bedtime when we follow the basic formula. Here are just a few games we've made up:

"The Yes/No game," invented by Dad (the logical one). This game is similar to "20 questions." Someone thinks of an object. Each person takes a turn asking a question that has either a "yes" or "no" answer. Here are some examples: "Is it alive?" "Is it man-made?" "Is any part of it made of metal?" We've been amazed that children as young as three-years-old enjoy playing this game. It is also a great traveling game.

"Guess the feeling," invented by Mom (the emotional one). Each person takes a turn acting out an emotion and the others guess what the person is feeling. More than once, our youngest child has guessed a feeling that stumped the rest of us. "Guess that animal," invented by Amber (our youngest child, when she was five-years-old), is similar, except you get to act like an animal!

"Finish that story," invented by Chris (our son, when he was nine-years-old). One person starts a story with "Once upon a time..." At some point they pass the story to the next person, who can continue the story however they want. Once, my husband finished a story about a little alien girl who landed in our living room and climbed under my son's pillow. When the children looked under his pillow, sure enough, there was the little purple-haired alien doll!

"Hey! How did that get there?" Along the same lines, my husband would frequently hide in his pocket or shirt a toy that was left on the floor. Then he would tell a story that somehow brought the toy to life and described how the toy got into its hiding place. Curious, the children would search him, and find the toy that had hidden itself!

"Tell a story about us!" When my memories of family adventures began to fade, I started a journal to capture them on paper. I don't make the time to write in it often, but now and then we read some of the stories and are transported back to all the joy and laughter of the moment. We've made up two family songs. One to the tune of the Addams Family and another to a rap beat. We name our cars and have funny stories about our old rust-bucket named Betsy.

"Guess the story," invented by Amber. One person tells a familiar story without identifying the characters, such as a movie or family adventure. The rest of the family tries to guess who the story is about.

Forts and tents. Sometimes I wonder why we bought our children beds. They love to take blankets and make a fort to sleep in. We limit this special activity to weekends and get agreements to be quiet and go to sleep after the lights are off. I'm not worried about starting a bad habit, because I know that soon enough they will be too old to enjoy this. They will never, however, forget the close, special memories they built with these forts.

Back rubs and scratches. Until I was almost twelve-years-old, I had a very special bedtime routine. It started with a "Charlie the Tuna Fish" story from my father. I honestly believed he had invented Charlie, because he was an artist and had painted a picture of Charlie -- which is framed and still hangs in my son's room. Next, my mom would scratch my back or brush my hair while she sang a song. (My favorite was "All Through the Night.")

So precious are my memories, that I have passed on the tradition of back rubs and scratching (through their clothes). My son, a dedicated soccer player, is often tired and sore after a game or practice. Not one to talk much, I've found that he often opens up about his day, while relaxing. Sometimes the children and I will take turns giving back (or foot) rubs to each other with scented lotion. My son now likes these massages so much, he starts massaging my shoulders when I'm dawdling at bedtime -- to butter me up and motivate me to return the favor.

My daughter likes back scratches better. I draw letters, pictures, and do a little "X marks the spot" rhyme that gives her goosebumps. One of my parenting class graduates said her children never want her to stop, so she calls her finger a "magic pen" that eventually runs out of ink. This gives her a tangible time to stop, so the pen can fill up for the next night. Having a friendly countdown to lights off can also get children scurrying into their beds.

"Ask any question," invented by Mom and enhanced by Dad. I started a 10 or 20-questions game with my children to help them open up during their back rubs and scratches. I will rub/scratch as long as they are still answering questions.

Soon, they wanted to ask me the questions. Between us, we have inquired about everything form "What's your favorite color?" to "Why do you think children try drugs for the first time?" My husband expanded this game to a round-robin of asking a question and the others do their best to give their opinion. One of the ground rules is that no one has all the answers. Questions have ranged from, "Who is God?" to "Why do we have ear wax?" Although I would have to say that my husband and children are quite imaginative, I am not.

These activities do not take any special creativity to invent. Children are naturally playful. All we have to do is get the process started and the children take it from there. For many families, bedtime battles are routine. These games, however, can turn bedtime into a time for expressions of love, touch, and precious memories. Get your creative juices going and make some special games of your own.

Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is a second-generation parent educator and president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting. She is the author of 100+ resources for parents and family service professionals, including her award-winning book, The Parent's Toolshop at Parent's Toolshop® Consulting, Ltd. Since 1980, Jody has trained parents and professionals through her dynamic presentations and served as internationally recognized parenting expert to the media worldwide. Get practical parenting resources, including more information about this topic at Parent's Toolshop®'s archive.

© Jody Johnston Pawel. Permission to republish provided by Net Connect Publicity.

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