If you’re a new babysitter or the generous host of a sleepover, I might sneak over and give you a tip for managing my sons at bedtime: remind them of their Sleep Rules. Apparently, the ritual in my house is not the norm in every house, so Whitney asked me to explain the what, how, and why to you.
When my children were ages two and four, my longtime babysitter quit because the dudes would not settle down in the evenings. Okay, she didn’t exactly quit, but she called me and my husband during our dates to complain about the boys’ behavior. Since that was the opposite of relaxing, we gradually phased her out.
We introduced The Sleep Rules. I was already obsessed with the extremely dense book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child for solving infant sleep problems, so I opened it back up to study up on toddler and preschooler sleep-related-shenanigans. Weissbluth suggests carefully repeating the same rules every night before bed to remind young children of the steps to fall asleep.
Rules and rituals? I’m in.
I created the inevitable sticker chart to reward the boys for following the four rules each night and incentivized them with a big boy bed (that I wanted to buy anyway). I read the chart before bed after tucking them in and asked any occasional caregivers to do the same.
The next month, I offered up ice cream treats for 28 out of 30 nights of success. Sick of writing it out by hand, I made subsequent sticker charts in Word.
A few years have passed, but The Sleep Rules have not changed. Though they don’t always go quietly into that good night (Heck, the chaos that serves as normal evening routine would probably be birth control for many of you!!), my kids understand bedtime. It starts at about 7 pm each night and ends with a recital of The Sleep Rules in the dark at 7.45. They like the rituals, and they go the eff to sleep. Every single night before 8 pm. All three of them — now age 2, 7, and 8 — have been sharing one bedroom for about a year and it’s mostly quiet until 7 am.
Even the toddler can recite (or SING!) the sleep rules we adapted from the book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child:
Our singing version is a frequently-requested lullaby set to the tune of Brahm’s Lullaby with a few more lyrics to make the syllables come out right. I paid my boys a total of $2 to sing it for you.
Stay in bed
Close your eyes
No more talking
Go to slee-eep
Those are the-eh-eh
rules of sleep
that every brother keeps.
Related: The chaos of three kids at bedtime.
I hope by sharing this I’m not subjecting myself to the Blogger’s Curse (The first rule about Sleeping Through the Night is that we don’t talk about Sleeping Through the Night!). I was not feeling at all smug about my bedtime process, until recently when I noticed other moms of young children around me making mention of their kids being up at 10 pm. How do those moms watch Scandal? The consistent bedtime routine in my house is not just for the boys’ health – though I do feel it’s important to give their tiny brains the right amount of sleep for their age – it’s also for me and my husband. Without a few hours of kid-free time before bed each night, we would be a mess.