using our bedtime routine to teach gratitude

A few of years ago when we were still toying with the idea of adoption, Justin and I offered to babysit our good friend’s three kids. In hindsight, we were insane. We also know why these friends immediately jumped at the opportunity for a kid-free night.

The week before the appointed day, we headed over to their house to observe their family’s nightly routine. This was our initiation into the importance of letting kids know what’s happening so that they don’t freak out later. The dinner time stuff and limitations on screen time was fairly straight forward. However, getting the kids down to bed was another thing altogether.

The process:

  1. Give each kid a bath, put on pajamas, and have them brush their teeth.
  2. Help the kids pick up their rooms.
  3. Have the kids pick out a story to read.
  4. Make sure their water bottle is full and available.
  5. Make sure that each kid’s lovey was in bed.
  6. Get the kids into their beds.
  7. Read the story to them.
  8. Ask them for 3-5 things that they’re grateful for.
  9. Sing at least one song.
  10. Say good night and shut the door.

From start to finish, it was about 15 minutes for each kid. I took the two older kids and Justin handled the youngest since she usually took longer. The beauty of the routine is what stuck with me. The kids knew exactly what was expected of them and what was coming next. I even found it reassuring to know that the end of a very crazy night was near.

Now that Sumner sleeps through the night reliably and has a good day time schedule, we’ve adopted most of this bedtime routine in our family with a couple of age-appropriate modifications.

I typically pick up Sumner’s room and get everything in place (sleep sack and lovey) while dad gets him ready for bed. We read a couple of pages from a chapter book as a family. Dad reads to us because he does the best voices for each of the characters and Sumner sits in my lap. We’re reading the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone right now. Since he’s so little it may be our last chance for a while to read fantasy books because younger kids tend to be overly literal and it could be scary for him. Once story time is done, dad and I both talk about three things that we’re grateful for from throughout the day. Then we sing “Twinkle Twinkle.” While singing, we give Sumner his elephant lovey and fox wubanub. We tell him good night, we love him, and that we’ll see him in the morning. Then we shut the door and leave. He’s typically asleep by the time we’re downstairs with the monitor on. Yes, we’re blessed to have a good sleeper. With all of his eating issues, we’ll happily take that reprieve.

As Sumner gets older, we’ll have him participate more in making choices about bedtime. For right now, simply following the routine helps set the stage for a nighttime of success.

The gratitude part of the routine is incredibly important to us because we want all of us to be in the habit of recognizing what went well during the day, especially the days when nothing seems to have gone right, and celebrating our family’s wins. It’s also a time for us to reflect on our privilege and good fortune and start having those discussions while Sumner is young so that it’s always a thing that we’ve done and not a sudden exercise. When I was a kid, we were only asked about gratitude around the Thanksgiving table. I always felt like it was just a thing we did, but it didn’t hold any weight to it. By making gratitude an every day thing, we show that reflecting on our day and noticing the good are things we value in our family all the time and not just on holidays.

I’m eternally grateful for my “mentor” mom insisting that we come over that night. She’s one of my best friends. We talk all of the time about how to navigate the challenges of our children and she’s someone that I look up to — especially during this time of transition out of the workforce and as a stay-at-home mom. She roots for me and assures me that what I’m going through is normal. We all need someone like her in our life.

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