Evenings can be chaotic for families with young children, making the night ripe for meltdowns. Any short cuts or tricks to make the evening go a little smoother for everyone are certainly welcome in our book.
We asked moms and dads to share their best hacks to simplify the nighttime routine in their homes. Here’s how these parents save time and energy so they have more time left for important things, like communication and relaxation.
Skip the pajamas and tell the kids to wear “tomorrow’s clothes” for bed.
“A hit-and-miss solution to morning misery trying to dress my toddler for the day: I get her dressed the next day on her for the night. She wakes up ready to go!” – Judy A.
Or put your pajamas on a week ahead of schedule.
“We pick out our dresses (and clothes) at the start of each week and put them in a vertical hanging organizer usually used for shoes. This helps them sift through clean laundry and make their rooms a mess every night. It’s one less decision after a stressful day of decision-making for both of us!” Alyssa Miller, registered dietitian at nutrition.for.littles
Serve treats in the bathtub.
Popsicles, ice cream cones etc. Usually in the summer! They loved this. I saved the mess and got to eat one too without having to constantly clean up. Wash it and use fresh water to rinse it clean.” – Claire M.
Cultivate sleepy feelings with a lavender mist.
“We started using lavender spray on their pillows at bedtime. It’s a calming scent and there seems to be some science behind it. By repeating the same scent over and over, it becomes a routine that uses their memory of the scent to trigger feelings of sleepiness.” – Dan Dougherty, illustrator at Beardo Comics
If you have a partner, take turns at bedtime to give each other a break.
“On days when I spend long hours with the kids in the daytime, my husband has a bedtime routine with the kids while I go to recharge. On days when my husband works late or has night classes, I make sure our daytime schedule includes plenty of Independent play for the kids, so I can somewhat rest and save my energy for the bedtime routine later.
Look for opportunities to save energy and avoid overstimulation by the end of the day, because I find that babies fall asleep more easily when parents are still calm and present during the bedtime routine. Perhaps because they can sense and absorb our energy, and so they become somewhat quiet when we are quiet, and we sleep a little more easily.” — Azalea Al-Suhaimi, artist and poet
Baby wear can help you multitask.
“As a mom of three, hacking our nighttime routine is essential. To help get everyone to bed at about the same time, I bathe my toddler first. Then I put her in PJs, in a forward-facing baby carrier and breastfeed her while I bring my older kid to bed and tidy up at the last minute.” Swinging and moving while in the sling helps my baby drift off to sleep without fuss.Plus, my hands are free, and I can give each of my older children individual attention.This allows me to have time to bond with all three, makes the night a breeze, and allows me to have more Time for myself and my husband. – Crystal Dohany, registered nurse, lactation consultant, and founder of MilkyMama
Use a visual timer to ease the transition to bedtime.
“We use a visual timer that, while counting down, reveals a picture of his bed so he can ‘see’ how much time is left.” – Amanda J.
Let the kids play while you prepare for bedtime.
“I give my kids (ages 6 and 3) a 10-minute bedtime warning and let them play for 10 minutes while I set up a bedtime routine. I used to involve the kids in picking out PJs, a bedtime book, and letting them put toothpaste on Brush their teeth, etc. But I found this led to quite a few hiccups – kids arguing about which book to read, putting too much toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.
You’ve now simplified the process by setting everything up within your 10-minute playtime! During those 10 minutes, I pick out their PJs, pick three books, and from those three books, kids get to pick two books (each kid picks one), put toothpaste on their toothbrush and get a small glass of water in case anyone gets thirsty before sleep straight. (I make sure to only allow them a few sips to avoid going to the bathroom all night!)” — Dr. Stephanie Liu, MD, family medicine physician and creator of Life Of Doctor Mom
Summing up the day together to connect with your children.
“After putting on pajamas, teethers, reading a book (or five), and water by the bed, I ask my kids to share their high, low, and in-between day. They love having this moment to share with me one-on-one.
The thing about “high, low and in the middle” is that it happens in bed right before bed. So the hack is that they have to all be ready and in bed in order to get engaged. Sometimes I’ll say, “It’s time for the high, the low, and the mean!” instead of “It’s bedtime!”
Pay attention and tell them you can’t wait to hear what they have to share tonight. Bedtime is no longer a time when they have to turn off their inquisitive mind, it’s another opportunity to connect.” – Katie Brunell, co-host of the “Redefining the Rainbow” podcast
Give them something to look forward to in the morning, too.
“In particularly difficult sleep seasons, we give them something to look forward to when they wake up. Nothing too exciting that will keep them up at night but something as simple as a note from Mom and Dad on their door while they sleep. [A] A little incentive to help them fall asleep, and looking forward to that note can help! – Miller
Whatever you do, be consistent about it.
The best nighttime tip I can give is consistency. De-stress by being very specific with your kids about a bedtime routine and then relentlessly sticking to it. For example, in our house, we brush teeth, fill water bottles, choose a stuffed animal to cuddle with and read a couple of bedtime stories.
Once I got very clear with my kids on this routine, they eventually stopped asking for more: more snacks, more stories, more stuffed animals. They know limits and are happy with them. As things develop, involve the children in the process. So they know the new routine and I’m not inclined to give up on a tired night or get frustrated when I’m overwhelmed with a decision at the end of a busy day.” –Gina McMillen, artist and author of “The Mommy Life”
Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.