QUESTION: Bedtime can be chaos in my home with my three children who are four, six and seven. They all become giddy and spark off each other, going into each other’s beds and rooms and it can be exhausting getting them all settled.
Should I try to stagger their bedtimes? When I tried to do this before, the four-year-old really resisted going to bed earlier as she did not want to miss out on anything.
ANSWER: When you have two or more children, it depends on the individual family as to whether it works best for them to have the same or different bedtimes. A lot depends on the individual sleep needs of the children, with some needing more sleep than the other (this is usually, though not always, the younger).
What matters most is that you establish a relaxing bedtime routine that allows each of them to have some special time with one of their parents at the end. For example, it could work well for your youngest to go to bed 20 minutes earlier if that meant that she got some special one-to-one reading time with Mum or Dad in her bed.
At this time your older two could be encouraged to do some individual relaxing activities downstairs as they wait to get their one-to-one time when they go to bed. Alternatively, you can have the same bedtime and a similar routine for all three.
In this situation, it can work well to have the rule that they get their one-to-one time when they are lying down and relaxing in their bed when you or your partner go round to each of them for a story or a chat.
In your situation, where bedtime has become problematic, it can be useful to restart the bedtime routine by doing up a family chart with your three children.
The fact that they are giddy could be a sign that they are overtired and need an earlier bedtime, or that they don’t have a good enough wind-down routine before bed.
On the chart, aim for an early bedtime and describe all the wind-down relaxing steps as well as the natural reward of the story or chat in bed at the end. To motivate them at the beginning, you can include a star for each of them if they make the bedtime, and a special team star for all of them if they get to bed in a relaxed manner without giddiness or messing. These stars can be exchanged for a special family treat at the end of the week. Creating a chart with them in this way can be a good way to get them motivated and involved.
For more practical tips see the Safefood “It’s Bedtime” campaign, safefood.eu
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, April 2015. John writes in The Irish Times Health+Family every Tuesday.