Putting the Kids to Bed

Now before you go off on me, I know this is no mommy blog. But I have this interesting life question that only the wide-ranging audience here may be able to answer.

What is the right way to put kids to bed?*

I have married kids with kids. Yeah, I’m not saying anything else about that. It’s just that, well, I watch the rituals they have evolved to put their kids to bed. I compare them to my own. My procedure was pretty regular with noted exceptions when arriving late after a long drive or something. I just made sure teeth were brushed, sphincter opening done, prayers said, a story or two, then in bed and lights out, door shut. Sure they had their issues with the shut door maybe, but they got over it immediately. The littler ones got some of the same treatment, except the breast feeding ones – which my wife cut off at the year mark more or less. Then, in bed, lights out, etc. Nobody allowed out, except maybe for a bad nightmare, sickness (I’m the puke guy, my wife does poop accidents) or gotta pee (but see above).

My kids are all over the map. One of them has a two or three hour thing of certain special stuff that has to be done. When I babysit however, I do my routine, which works out fine if you don’t mind a few tears for a few minutes. I think some of their kids are playing my kids big time, sometimes. I don’t say anything about it to them, and none of them are blog friendly much, not here anyway, so I doubt this would get back to them. But really my main question is, how do you do it? I mean, is it really that tough? I know there are medical exceptions here and we are dealing with a spectrum of kid personality too. But really? Really?? (Covers head.)

* The thing that drove me to this was Mayim Bialik’s blog post about her routine with acting on Big Bang Theory (where some of my former colleagues appear in their younger incarnations).


  1. Nobody knows their children as the parent themselves. Having THREE kids in the spectrum and few people knowing about it (they’re high functioning) my husband and I get all the “right” answers on how to do things from relatives, “friends” and even strangers.

    End of the story: They have NO clue. When you’re trying to survive day by day, you do what it works and worry little about whether it’s the right way or not, of course I am speaking about special needs children and since I don’t have neuro-typical ones I cannot say.

  2. philomytha says:

    Depends how autistic your kids are.

  3. Most of the time it is entirely the parent’s “fault” or “choice” to have elaborate bedtime rituals.
    I keep it simple and that works for me. I assume parents who make it complicated do it because for some reason it makes parenting easier for them.
    I try to remember that I make other things complicated. I care about my kid’s math curriculum and make them do extra math. I make my life harder by doing this, but obviously I think it is important enough to worry about and take time to do and I think it is beneficial.
    I think it is hard to be a grandparent and see your kids parenting slightly strangely. Just think of it like a weird baseball player superstitious ritual. If they think it helps them or their kid, maybe it actually does in some sort of way.

  4. I trend towards you, wvs; there but by the grace of God go I.

  5. My biggest problem is that I’m torn between good things. I want to spend as much time with them as possible — they are hilarious kids and being around them is the best part of my day. I also want to read books and watch Netflix and clean my house. I also want them to get the sleep they need.

    So, every day I’m trying something new. We have our rituals – brush teeth, read books, pray — but the rest is all over the map.

  6. I have a child who would literally hold his eyelids open with his fingers to keep from falling asleep WHEN HE WAS 14 MONTHS OLD. When we tried to “Ferberize” him at 10 months, he climbed out of his crib and broke his collarbone, so I don’t like it when people presume to know better than I do what would work for my child(ren).

    Kids are different and good parents are responsive to their children’s needs. Simple bedtimes work great for many (maybe most) kids; if you never had occasion to elaborate the routine, spend the extra time you gained counting your blessings.

  7. We keep it simple – pajamas on, scriptures and family prayer, teeth brushed, then I go in and listen to their personal prayers, give them a hug and kiss and lights out. Then they have to stay in bed.

    We have friends who have a huge routine, though, with scriptures and family prayer, daddy reading them a book, then telling them a story from his imagination, singing a hymn together, singing silly songs, last chance for something to eat, last chance for a drink, brush teeth, say prayers, get tucked in bed, get a lullaby, personal reading time, personal drawing time, personal scripture time, last hugs, etc, etc. It took hours.

  8. Scriptures, teeth, potty, short story nite nite. Seems pretty easy to me.

    5 kids 10 and under

  9. I forgot to mention that autistic kids (those who are not medicated) have serious sleeping issues.

  10. Thank you, Kristine. Now I don’t feel bad about my kids and their getting-to-sleep issues. ;-)

  11. Thanks for that helpful comment, bbell. I’m blown away by your insight.

  12. Hunter,

    Thats me very to the point. I have kids that are pretty normal. So they are in a routine that takes about 30 minutes. I forgot to add prayer. The routine part is the biggest issue. You need to have something that occurs everynite at about the same time. At one point we had 4 kids in 4 years. Having a routine is the only way we survived.

  13. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Autistic adults have serious sleeping issues, too.

    If people have the time for a 2-3 hour nighttime ritual and they (and kids) enjoy it, excellent. We do baths, teeth, pajamas, cup of water and story, prayer, a song, and bed. It’s about 20 minutes. There’s no right answer, obviously. I mean, what’s the right way to parent?

  14. I have kids that do a lot of talking about stuff in those hours of bedtime nonsense (involving most of the things jes’s friend does). It’s stuff that doesn’t come out at other times of the day–friend stuff, things they feel guilty about, etc. Maybe some of it is stalling, but lots of time its real sharing. I value that time a lot.

    My parents were much more matter of fact about bed time. We got that kind of talking in with my mom, mostly when we came home from school.

    But my kids do way more after school stuff than I ever did as a kid. So maybe that’s why. Noone talks at our house after school and gymnastics, because then we gotta do dinner and homework, etc. So it has to come out at night. Better then than never.

  15. Since I won’t be a father until April, we haven’t implemented a bed-time ritual yet. However, I’m sure it will be completely perfect when we do, I will report back to let you know how perfect it is.

    @Mommy, if you need any pointers, feel free to contact me.

  16. I don’t think it ultimately matters as long the the parents and children are generally happy with the routine. My husband and I still lay down with our 4-year-old daughter every single night until she goes to sleep. Could she do it without us? Probably, with some firmness and a few tears. But we don’t mind doing this (most nights), we enjoy spending those moments with her, and she doesn’t usually take that long to go to sleep. I know there are members of our family who think we are crazy and think she is getting one over on us. But who cares? They can do what they want with their kids.

    There are some aspects of dealing with parenting issues (nightwaking, breastfeeding, etc.etc.–it can be different for every family) that may sometimes feel inconvenient, and to outsiders can seem downright misguided or crazy. But each family has to decide what their priorities are and what works for them, and that’s really all that matters.

  17. I am a terrible, terrible father.

  18. Julie M. Smith says:

    “I don’t think it ultimately matters as long the the parents and children are generally happy with the routine.”


    Also, the routine should be easily repeatable by outsiders, in case you ever want or need someone else to do it.

  19. One of my main considerations is similar to what Julie mentioned (other people need to be able to do it), but rather that my kids need to learn how to put themselves to bed. Certainly not all at once, and certainly at their own rate, but every day I push a little more towards their independence. The ultimate goal is for me to have to do little more than participate in the family prayer.

  20. My concern with the length of my friends’ bedtime routine was that their kids were routinely are staying up until btwn 9 and 10 and night. This was when they had 4 kids with the oldest being 8 1/2. I’m a huge believer in kids needing a lot of sleep.

    The downtime without kids at night was a very big deal to me when I had lots of little kids at home all day. So, I guess I would say “I don’t think it ultimately matters as long the the parents and children are generally happy with the routine” AND are getting enough sleep so they’re not cranky the next day.

  21. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Starfoxy — this is one of those points where I remind myself — it can’t matter that much what we do, because everybody gets there in the end. Everybody gets toilet-trained before adulthood, everybody learns how to go to sleep by themselves by the time they’re 35. And that’s been happening, presumably, for (hundreds of?) thousands of years.

  22. Getting them to bed was always fairly easy, but I had one with night terrors and she was up from midnight til 2 or 3 every night until she was 4. That was tough.

  23. You sound like my dad. Not just the bedtime routine thing, but the whole questioning the way your kids do it and comparing it to how you did it.

    My general response is: “You had your chance. This is mine”.

  24. One book read, or one chapter in a novel, then they are on their own, and the rule was that they didn’t have to go to sleep, but that they had to stay on their bed.

    If they make too much noise or get up, they are told that if they keep it up, then we’ll have no choice but to make them turn out their light and go to sleep, so “if I were you, I’d stay on my bed and be as quiet as possible because then you won’t have anyone forcing you to do anything.”

    One thing was certain, when they got too tired they fell asleep.

    Sometimes we’d find them fast asleep with 30 books and three toys on the bed. One time we found my daughter asleep with a tootsie roll tucked in her cheek with the stick poking out of her mouth. (Uh! I know! We relied a lot on help from the unseen folks.)

  25. Oh, and after we went to bed, they were always (well, ‘sometimes’ at first, then ‘always’ later) free to sleep on the floor next to our bed. They did sometimes, such as when a thunderstorm rolled through, but usually they were in their own room.

  26. I keep it simple, like the simple patterns listed above. After spending all day with them, I definitely need some time for myself. In fact, most of the time my husband does it because I’m pretty finished.

    I do run an in-home daycare, so that is probably why I tend to throw up my hands when dad gets home.

  27. We Fockerize them.

  28. PJ’s, clean up, Potty, Drink, Story, into bed, hugs and kisses, close door… end of story. Usually…. lol

  29. My two neuro-typical kids go to sleep with no issues- easy peasy. My autistic son? There is not such thing as imposing my will on him, and only living with autism teaches you how to deal with it. Trial by fire.

    Melatonin has made a huge difference in his ability to calm down. And since he can calm down easier means he gets more sleep, which means he functions better the next day, and we’re all happier. It’s a complicated web of give and take.

  30. philomytha says:

    Tracy, has your son had any issues with nightwaking with the melatonin? We tried it for our autistic daughter and she’d go to sleep sooner, but then wake up at 3am and not be able to get back to sleep. I don’t know if we had the wrong dosage or what.

  31. My kids are all teenagers now. I honestly don’t remember what we did when they were little. I was too sleep-deprived.

  32. I thought I had that whole sleep thing figured out fairly well with a simple routine…then I had twins…and one of those twins was Becca. sigh. Just maybe the parents are doing the very best they can to help their child and hopefully get a little sleep themselves.

    I recently met some helicopter type parents who were bending over backwards to protect their children from even the slightest insult or touch-it was driving me crazy until I found out their 7 yo had recently been abused…just maybe people do things for a reason.

  33. philomythia- No, but I’ve heard others say the same thing. What I have found is he responds better to a lower dosage than to higher- we just use 0.5 mg, and he’s asleep in usually 30 minutes, vs 3 hours without. If I give him a 3 mg dosage, it actually amps him up before he conks out. Trial and error, like everything else with autism.

  34. My parents and in-laws have occasionally questioned why we do things the way we do (or else they roll their eyes and tell their other children that we’re doing it wrong). I don’t know how to politely tell them, “As your child, I learned what NOT to do as parent because you were doing it wrong.” Not that our parents were bad parents, they were great. But there were a few things here and there that made us swear we would never do that to our kids, and some of those things turned out to be more than just our immature perspectives. I’m sure that our children will feel the same about us, but isn’t that one of the great things about the way life is? We get to learn from the generation before us, as well as the generation after us.

  35. Mike from Atlanta says:

    I discovered the secret to getting kids to bed is MAKE THEM GET UP EARLY THE NEXT DAY AT A CONSISTENT TIME. When kids know they really will be miserable when have to get up, they put themselves to bed. The morning battle is easy for parents to win and not be nasty or obnoxious doing it. You can not force a kid to go to sleep at night. At our house kids go to sleep whenver they want and wherever. My son went through a stage when he slept outside on the trampoline most of the time. If it started raining, the back door was left open, not a problem.

    Something else we discovered was that my kids actually need only about 5-6 hours of sleep. I need about 8 hours of sleep. I go to bed at 10 and they usually stay up past midnight and I woukld get them up before 6. They are older now but this schedule was in place by the time they went to kindergarden. I can only imagine the years of drama we avoided by not making them go to bed at a time that was biologically too early for them.

    Now, if you have bed time rituals that you both enjoy, that is in the category of recreation in my mind. If you want to read stories to kids at night, you can do it just as easily out on the trampoline and bring your umbrella.

  36. It sounds like you feel threatened because they are choosing to parent their children differently than you parented them. Does it make you feel like they think you did it wrong? Like what you did wasn’t good enough?

  37. Olive: Nah. Just wondered what people do. I don’t really care how they do it, as long as it works for them. It just seemed really inefficient to me, but to each his/her own.

    Lots of interesting thoughts here, and the special needs situations are noted. I’m a night person, and tend to work late into the night so early rising, like before 7:30 say, usually does not happen. Moreover, since I do work at night, I wanted the kids done and gone by some reasonably early hour so I could do stuff. And of course, you need time for spousal connection if you’ve got one. Night was when that happened for us with younger kids.

  38. Stephanie (#23), Olive (#36), I don’t see anything in this post that indicates insecurity or questioning of methods. Just a general lack of, and seeking, understanding. And he is not being over-the-top when he describes this person (or more accurately, his wife) and their ridiculous bedtime routine. Said grandchildren are not autistic, nor do they have any special needs (other than a 3-hour bedtime ritual, apparently). My kids (both special needs, though not ASD) go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, put on pjs, have family prayer/scriptures, and lights out! There are no night lights, no music playing, no hand-holding til they fall asleep. If that’s what you prefer, then great! But I’m exhausted at the end of the day and am ready for the kids to be in bed as soon as possible. No drawn out bedtime routines for me!

    The behavior he’s referring to is just odd and over the top, plain and simple.

    And I don’t think he cares, he just doesn’t get it. I suppose I could be biased, though. After all, WVS is my dad.

  39. Oops, sorry Dad. I see you beat me to the punch!

  40. Hey, I hope you’re not getting me in trouble. (grin)

  41. living in zion says:

    I’m almost embarrassed to admit how bed times went when our kids were little. Pj’s, teeth brushing if I felt up for it, hugs and kisses, then bed. I NEVER read a bedtime story or did the every night bath ritual. I didn’t talk to them about their day. I just spent all day with them and just wanted peace and quiet.

    Now that they are grown, I am so glad it all worked out. No one needed braces, all have minimal fillings (so the dental neglect bullet was dodged) and everyone is a voracious reader, so I beat that one too. Lastly, they all can go to sleep easily. I am truly blessed.

  42. I just tell my wife its time to put the kids to bed. Its really not that big of a deal and sees to work pretty well.

  43. Diapers and pjs, teeth brushed, story (usually), in bed, prayers, hugs and kisses, lights out.

    And of course the most important part of the routine with the oldest is the drink spiked with melatonin half an hour before bedtime, otherwise he would never sleep. Also, since he has a hard time sleeping he’s pretty much allowed to turn his light back on whenever (he doesn’t usually, but there are some days) as long as he doesn’t come out of his room.

    @philomytha– can your daughter swallow pills? If so, you can get a time-release melatonin that will deliver a dose right when they take it, but then continue to dissolve and deliver more partway through the night. It hasn’t been too much of an issue for us (and he hasn’t learned to swallow pills), so I haven’t tried it, but I have some friends who’ve used it with good results when they saw similar results to you when first trying melatonin.

  44. Well, then my opinion is these kids aren’t going to want Mommy singing them to sleep and holding their hand and laying down with them until they fall asleep for forever. In my experience, the older the kids get, the more kids you have, the shorter the bedtime routine becomes.

    So, you know, if it makes her happy, and the kids like it, then who’s to judge? Its her time, so let her do what she wants with it.

    To be fair, she’s probably going to have a really close relationship with them because of it. “Experts” say bedtime is one of the best times to talk to your kids (besides sitting in the car).

  45. Start when they’re 6 months old. Feed child. Bathe and change child. Rock, cuddle and love child. Put child to bed at 8 pm. Shut door. Do not go back till morning. Ignore crying. Do this three days in a row.

    And for the rest of child’s childhood, unless they’re sick, etc.

    I didn’t do this. And Sarah is a terrible sleeper.

    NEVER have child sleep with you until they’re 13. NEVER rock child every night at 2 am when they can’t sleep. LET THAT CHILD CRY IT OUT AND LEARN TO SELF-COMFORT. They’ll thank you for it. And your life will be so nice at 8 pm at night. After the first 3 days.

  46. StillConfused says:

    The way that I did it with my kids is that if they wanted mommy to put them to sleep, they had to be willing to go to bed before me. (I am an early to bed gal and they like to stay up late). So about 8 years old or so, the whole put the kids to bed thing was done for me.

    I didn’t get too worked up about them coming to sleep with us when they were upset. Because this didn’t happen very often. (Funny side note, my daughter must sleep with her head facing north. Been that way since birth. Our bed was an east-west facer which meant that if she climbed in bed with us, she would rotate 90 degrees in the night. Crazy and odd. And again a good thing she didn’t do that too often.)

  47. #45 And on the other hand, we did the whole crunchy granola parent thing (co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand until age 2, never left baby to cry it out) and ended up with a terrific sleeper who has slept through the night from early on, transitioned easily to his own room and now asks to go to bed. I’m convinced most kids are wired to sleep a certain way and I won’t be surprised at all if the next one is completely different.

  48. I like to cuddle babies, so I break every single “rule” with bitty people. I nurse them to sleep, I rock them until they’re really, really, limp-and-drooling-OUT, I rock and cuddle them if they wake in the night.

    By the time they’re about two, they’re going to bed with the bigger kids (often sharing a bed with a bigger kid… my bigger kids need that cuddle time, too!).

    Normal nights have the little girls playing forever in the tub, then PJs, then reading or watching a movie together, then teeth, tucking in, and me singing approximately 45 verses of our favorite family-made lullaby, then giving five hugs to each little girl (cessation of one hug and commencement of the next is signified by a lessening of the squeeze, and turning the other cheek each time), and kisses.

    And then there are nights like tonight, when I Am Done, and I let them brush without any supervision at all, and tell them to please get in bed, and we’ll sing in the morning, and if they get out of bed for anything other than a bursting bladder, or vomiting, there will be spanks.

    I like those nights, too. :)

  49. we have combined chrunchy granola and crying it out–always after age 1 and different according to child-family needs. 1 child needed extra cuddles and was a frequent waker…after aage 2 she started sleeping with 12yo sister in her queen sized bed…worked like a charm for all involved and has slept great since age 3.5 in her own bed.

    I’m with 47..they sleep how they sleep.

  50. i knew a couple who would put their three kids to bed at 7p… then wonder why they woke up at like 5 in the morning

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