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.")