As many parents know, preparing the kids for bed can be the best part of a parent’s day — or the most challenging.
As a mom who had three sons in four and a half years, I had to have a nighttime routine when the boys were little. At first, the tedious process of helping three young boys get ready for bed stressed me out. Who didn’t brush their teeth yet? Who can’t find his teddy bear? Who needs a cup of water at the exact moment when I finally sit down after they’re all tucked in?
Getting my sons to do all the things they needed to do was harder than herding cattle until I learned to make the best of it. Adding a ritual that had plenty of room for learning, bonding, fun, and error made bedtime the best part of our day. But we also didn't do the same thing every night because that would have made it predictable and boring and therefore more difficult to get them to cooperate.
For us, getting ready for bed became a time that enhanced the boys' sibling bond: helping each other find their favorite stuffed animals. Making sure they put their favorite toys away so they could grab them first thing in the morning. Sharing one good thing that happened that day and one thing they hoped would happen the next day. Sometimes they had realistic hopes, like "I hope we finger-paint at school," and sometimes it was "I hope the Polar Express comes to our house!"
It became a time for them to learn how to care for each other, to share stories of their day and their hopes for the next day, to create good hygiene habits (!), to laugh with each other — all things I hoped they'd carry into their teenage years and beyond.
But the biggest learning may have been mine: to enjoy these tender moments of childhood and trust, which help sweet little boys become loving young men.
In the hopes that it will be helpful to other families, here are 15 ways we made getting ready for bed something to look forward to:
Hint: Start early! I learned early on, what could possibly go wrong when putting three boys to bed? (Answer: everything!) Starting early makes time for mishaps and unexpected setbacks and surprises.
1. Bedtime starts at dinner time!
At the table, in the car at a drive-through (yes, you can still be an amazing parent while resorting to fast food), or in front of the TV, dinner time is wind-down time. We did our best to keep noise and excitement to a minimum.
2. Next up: bath time. Or quick shower time?
Three in the tub can be a project in itself. Tub time is full of lessons in taking turns. Who sits near the faucet? Who turns it off? Who washes the baby’s hair with JOHNSON'S® Baby Shampoo?
When we got home later than planned after visiting grandma’s house, sometimes the bath would become a quick shower instead. My boys always loved a long bath, but there isn’t always time for the tub and JOHNSON'S® Baby Bubble Bath.
3. Unless it’s too late for a bath or a shower.
Washing three sets of hands and three faces in the sink one after the other can take nearly as long as a bath sometimes. A quick wipe-down with JOHNSON'S® HEAD-TO-TOE® baby cleansing cloths can do the trick on those nights when the kids are tired and cranky after a long, fun day.
4. Towel time! (And pajamas and diapers and pull-ups and underwear.)
Getting three giggly boys dry and dressed was easier when they all helped each other. Each took turns putting the towels away and getting what the others needed.
5. Toothbrush time!
Three kids means three different skill and patience levels with brushing teeth. If each one teaches the other a little (here are some tips and tricks they can use), it helps take the pressure off the parent who has to be the tooth-brushing police.
6. Last call!
...for water and sippy cups. As each child got old enough, they took turns getting the last call drinks of water or filling sippy cups for their brothers.
7. Put favorite toys to “sleep.”
That tiny wooden train and that favorite action figure can get lost in bed pretty easily. So they each had special places to sleep, and each child said goodnight to them.
8. Get in one bed. Whose bed?
We always snuggled up in one bed all together for a little while. Each child felt special when it was their turn to be the "host" on their bed.
9. Pick a story.
Each night, a different child got to choose a story. Often, they requested the same story night after night until we all had it memorized.
10. If that drives you crazy, make up a story.
We took turns and made up stories together — one would begin the story and say “pass,” then another would develop the story for a couple of minutes and say "pass," then the next would add more to the story. Sometimes these stories were worthy of retelling night after night as well!
11. Remember why we started early?
An unexpected phone call? A legitimate bathroom break? An “I forgot I need to bring ____ to school tomorrow!” A stumble and fall that requires cuddles, a healing kiss, and a BAND-AID® Bandage? We have time for that!
12. Share your heart!
We each took a turn sharing one good thing that happened today.
13. Share your hope!
We each shared one thing we hoped would happen tomorrow. Small hopes: chocolate milk with breakfast, a sunny day. High hopes: a trip to Disney, a ride on a pirate ship. It’s important to dream big.
14. Hugs and kisses!
Before you know it, kids will be using their final moments before bed to talk to friends on the phone, to get homework done, or to read and study. Hug and kiss them right before the lights go out while they still ask you to.
15. Lights out!
Whose turn is it to turn off the light? Whose turn is it to pick up the littlest one when it’s his turn to turn off the light?
Above all, don’t sweat it. The world won't come to an end if one or more of these doesn’t happen once in a while!