My children and grandchildren often got their best naps outside in the fresh air.
Bedtimes for me were always about setting a mood. There was no rough housing before bed, though there was plenty of that earlier, so they were tired out. I kept my voice relaxed and low and often only turned on dimmer lights. I made sure they played outside or went for a walk at some time during the day, so they got fresh air every day. There were no sweet treats right before bed. If we had a late dinner, we would skip dessert altogether or have fruit or something else light. Warm milk always helps with sleep, even if there's a touch of cocoa in it, though I like vanilla and a drop of maple syrup. Although this theory has been debunked, most experts agree that the ritual of having a warm drink often induces sleep rather than the drink itself. My recipe is as follows.
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a sprinkle of cocoa, if desired
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until slightly steaming but not simmering, add vanilla, maple syrup and cinnamon. Whisk until frothy. Or, heat in the microwave on full power for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Sprinkle cocoa on top, and serve warm.
The books I chose were low key and soothing. I often read bedtime themed books but never books that made them excitable. We read those during the day. If my children were having baths right before bed, they were low-key relaxing baths as opposed to the free-for-all bubble baths with exciting bath toys. And, I always sang to them. Sometimes I sang for a long time, other times I only sang one or two songs. I always left time for talking because the lullabies often led to amazing heartfelt conversations. Because they were so relaxed, all the worries, questions and thoughts that had come up during the day came out during lullaby time. This website has lyrics to a few popular lullabies.
Children often live in a magical world of imagination. I always encouraged this and tried to tap into that magical place. I talked with them about dreams, asked them what they had dreamed about when they woke in the morning and told them my dreams as they wiped away the sand the sandman had left in their eyes the night before. We often looked for signs of fairies who may have visited while we were asleep, and I explained that the fairies only came looking in on us after we were sleeping, just like Santa Claus. Our children are filled with wonder at everything around them because it’s all fresh and new. We need to use our imaginations to keep our routines fresh and new, too. I’m not talking about radically changing routines, but just adding a little spice now and then.
I raised my granddaughter for many years. I was already in my 50s when she came to live with me, and I got worn out quickly. One time, she was having a “terrible no-good day”. Nothing went right for her, and I was dealing with one meltdown after another all-day long. I had no idea how I was going to get her to settle down for bed. I suggested a bath, which was usually a winner, but she flatly refused and started in crying again. I walked away exasperated and noticed a few packages of glow sticks on a shelf. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head. I ran a nice warm bath, floated all the glow sticks in the water, shut off the bathroom lights and invited her in. Within minutes she was happily floating in this magical watery wonderland, happy as a clam and went off to bed without a peep.
Sometimes we went outside to look at the stars and planets before bed. If it was cold, I’d wrap them up in blankets and we’d snuggle close in a lawn chair or on a sleeping bag on the ground while I pointed out constellations and told them stories about them. Sometimes they picked out their favorite star. We always wished on the first star of the night and looked for the man in the moon. And I had a song for everything, songs about the moon and the stars songs about bedtime and the sandman, songs about the nighttime sounds and nighttime creatures like owls.
If it was summertime, and they complained because they were going to bed while it was still light out, I recited a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson from "A Child's Garden of Verses" that my dad used to recite to me. Just as I remember all of the songs he sang to me when I was a child, I remember most of the poems, too.
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
We all must figure out our own bedtime routines for our families. The important thing is to be flexible and fair but firm, to be fun and imaginative but not rowdy. Our children count on us to be the parents and set the limits and expectations. I always try to remember that we are the leaders of the pack. If we behave like benevolent leaders, our children will follow our lead.