Kid's bedtime routine that is fair for them and okay for me?
November 18, 2023 7:04 AM   Subscribe

My eight-year-old’s bedtime routine isn’t working great for either of us. Looking for advice on how to make it better.

My kid (8 yrs old) goes to bed around 8:00 pm. We've had this routine and bedtime for a long time. He gets up around 7:45 am.

He does not have formal lights-out time. He loves reading and often stays up in bed reading till 11:00 pm or so before falling asleep. He generally seems fairly well-rested. On school days he gets up at 7:45 or so and takes a bit of prompting, on weekends, if allowed to sleep in, he’ll sleep till 8:15 or so

I think we are keeping the early bedtime, tbh, because I'm just used to the idea that 8:00 is when parenting ends. I like having that time to do my own stuff, relax, do housework, etc. Maybe there’s some way to do that without making my kid lie in bed for three hours?

A few problems we have

1) That’s a long time for someone to be in bed! My kid gets bored sometimes or complains they can’t sleep. I feel it might be unfair to make them go to bed so much earlier than their body seems to require
2) They make a lot of requests from me: Snacks, accompaniment to the bathroom, etc. They are just a bit scared at night. Not so much so that they’re unhappy being alone, but enough that they don’t want to be alone when they go to the bathroom, get a snack, etc (which is why I accomodate the requests)
3) I sometimes get annoyed by the various requests, because I see this as “my time”, am trying to catch up on some work or whatever. So I end up accomodating the requests, but also being resentful/annoyed, which seems not optimal

I feel like the existing system isn't really working well, but I feel a little unclear on what to do.

posted by MarNet to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a possible solution to the first point: does his room have space for a small armchair or a beanbag or something like that? You could designate that time as "reading time" or "bedroom time", so he can sit in the chair/beanbag quietly reading or drawing or whatever he does, with the understanding that he's got to stay in his room and it's for calm or quiet activities to wind down before he goes to sleep. That way there's a degree of separation and he's not in bed for that whole time, which might impact his sleep hygeine. Then you could go up around 11pm to make sure he's in bed and that's the actual "go to sleep" time.
posted by fight or flight at 7:14 AM on November 18 [17 favorites]

I have an 8 year old and if they sleep much past 6:30 it’s really hard for them to go to sleep at 8:30pm… that’s lights out time. I enjoy having them awake earlier rather than staying up so late.
posted by flink at 7:34 AM on November 18

Yes, my eight-year-old loves reading too, and usually does a bit before falling asleep at ~8:30pm but gets up at 6:15-6:45am to go at it again while slowly eating breakfast. Originally they had a schedule like you describe but once kindergarten started that didn't work for us getting to school on time. Without staying up so late one also can get away from the bedtime snacks: my strategy there is that teeth have to be re-cleaned after any food or non-water drink. For mine that's enough of a deterrent that they only go through with eating when they're actually hungry, not just because something sounds good or they're bored of being in bed.
posted by teremala at 8:04 AM on November 18

Agreeing with fight or flight: A really comfy chair with soft reading light, for reading or drawing (or coloring books if he is in to that). Nice quilt or blanket to snuggle under on said chair.

Every evening a snack tray with stuff that does not need refrigeration gets prepared to have sitting in his bedroom, with kid's input/help with snack prepping. Stuff like a stainless steel water bottle and things like a container with some almonds, or a few whole grain crackers spread with peanut butter or almond butter, or a granola bar, or a banana, trail mix ... etc. etc.

Make sure there is a night light in the hall/route to bathroom, and a night light in the bathroom, and that kid has some kind of flashlight to take along with him to bathroom. That might help a bit on that front.

I was a night owl from a young age. So, you can try shifting his wakeup time and encouraging his going to sleep earlier, but it may not work out. I never was able to go to sleep before 11 at that age and my parents settled for me doing quiet activities like reading in bed.

Also, I get that you want some me time in the evening, but at that age my parents were doing some reading with me, i.e. they would read a nightly chapter of an age appropriate book with me as an evening activity. I usually then continued to read something on my own rather than going to sleep right away, but it was a cozy family thing for us to demarcate the end/slowing down of the day.
posted by gudrun at 8:17 AM on November 18 [7 favorites]

Good advice already.

One tactic that has worked well for us to deter our toddler from skipping dinner in favour of a bedtime snack is that the only available bedtime snack in our house is a banana + glass of milk. This is the only thing on the menu.

When bedtime snacks are super duper boring, they lose their appeal, and it helps filter out the moments from when my kid is genuinely hungry from the moments where they want a snack to stall bedtime.

(And +1 requiring a tooth brushing afterwards is another good deterrent).
posted by rodneyaug at 8:43 AM on November 18 [5 favorites]

I kind of agree that it's a really long time to make a kid be out-of-sight, alone in a room. It would be one thing if they had a sibling with them so they could interact at least, but to relegate a child to be all alone for those hours when the kid is making bids for attention and is scared, seems not great for him. Especially when he wakes up so late in the morning (I mean, that's a full 12 hours, half the day alone). I think pushing it to 9pm seems more fair to me, plus the armchair, etc. But it seems like he should have more choice, and not just have to just disappear and come up with reasons to see you.
posted by asimplemouse at 9:40 AM on November 18 [17 favorites]

My kids and I went on a bunch of buddhist retreats when they were growing up, and one of the practices that stuck was called Noble Silence. Essentially not speaking from the end of dinner to mid-breakfast, it set a tone for nighttime that my then-7-and-9-year-old boys appreciated as much as I did. When we did it at home, it was also a no-screens time, with the exception of a show/movie we might watch together.

On nights when we practiced Noble Silence, we all read more than usual, they played guitar/piano/board games, the dog got more walks, etc.

Doing something like that with your son could allow you to set off-duty hours for yourself and teach him about other people's boundaries, and by not making it bedtime for him, it could give him more agency to take care of his own needs/wants after dark.
posted by headnsouth at 10:57 AM on November 18 [4 favorites]

Is there a part of your bedtime routine that is you and him time? We keep some solid shared reading time in my child's routine to help fill the attention cup as I call it. It is usually 20 minutes usually of read aloud time, sometimes more depending how into it she is and how the conversation flows. It is mostly my child reading to me at this point.

I also encourage fostering independence in terms of food getting ( we started this really young with our kid though) she's got her own section in the fridge and pantry for snacks that are just there whenever.

People should eat when they are hungry so we don't make a big deal of it and it isn't an attention thing, we let her retrieve as much as is practically possible.

If there a specific fear problem solving it, extra lights and such.

Our place is really small city apartment so we are never really far apart compared to suburban houses.

We do lights out no more screens time at 8 with an expectation of being asleep by 830. She has to be up by 6:30 though. If she needed to be up by 7:45 we could push back her bedtime to 930 without consequences on her amount of sleep.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:12 AM on November 18 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: (for those who asked - yes bedtime involves time together, reading)
posted by MarNet at 12:03 PM on November 18

I think this is a "time in bed" problem, consider his room the bed. Sleep needs really vary but I think that for your kid essentially 8-8 is asking for too much sleep. So either move bedtime back or start waking him up earlier. In either case I would make the move slowly, 15 minutes per day. I would move one or the other by 90 minutes over a week and then give it a week to see how it goes. It's possible that changing his schedule will result in more overall sleep.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on November 18

I think we are keeping the early bedtime, tbh, because I'm just used to the idea that 8:00 is when parenting ends. I like having that time to do my own stuff, relax, do housework, etc.

There does come a time when bedtime shifts whether it’s now or in a year or two so it might not be a bad idea to start working out what that looks like. Like can you both read together on the couch, or can your child help with some of the housework for 20 minutes before bedtime, or can you relax in the same room. I know those are not easy changes but they do arrive, just like nap time ends and everyone adjusts.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:23 PM on November 18 [4 favorites]

Honestly, if you're happy with the time he gets up I think you need to move to a later bedtime. He clearly doesn't need 11-12 hours of sleep at a time any more. The alternative is to make him get up earlier so that he is tired earlier on the day. If he's a natural night owl that won't work and will make him miserable. I also think it's a bit cruel to make someone get up earlier than they need to.
posted by plonkee at 3:27 PM on November 18

With our oldest, quite early on we moved from her early bedtime (7pm) to a progressively later bedtime, but everything after 7pm is still called "after bedtime".

During after bedtime she's allowed to hang out downstairs with us, but only to do calm, quiet, no-bugging-your-parents stuff like reading, drawing etc. She is allowed to talk to us of course but not the 50 questions in a row sort of talking. Activities need to be self-contained, quiet, and tidied up afterwards.

Your kid needs to be on board with this trade-off and able to abide by it. Our kid is, but the odd time when she is not sticking to the "quiet and calm" rule, she gets sent to bed.
posted by reshet at 3:29 PM on November 18 [7 favorites]

One thing that helped decrease my resentment about being called back for this and that is that we set up a system where the kid had four rings (we cut up a cardboard toilet paper roll) that would be put on his nightstand at bedtime. Each time he needed something from a parent (most nights there were two of us sharing the parental duties) it would "cost" one ring. (When the parent came in, they would move one ring from the nightstand to the dresser). After four requests (using up the four rings), he could only ask for us if it was an emergency. For this kid, it worked really well - he would usually stop at three requests, saving the fourth "just in case".

One of the big benefits was that I knew that most nights, I wasn't going to be called more than once or twice (since I was splitting it with my partner) Knowing there was a limit made me much more patient and less annoyed. You could adjust the number of rings to find your own patience level.
posted by metahawk at 5:54 PM on November 18 [3 favorites]

We have a 9 year old and 6 year old who share a bedroom. I deeply sympathize with the need for Me Time, especially with young children, and don't think starting bed early is cruel at all-- some of these comments seem a big judgemental and it is OK to have needs as a parent. But I do think that predictability and clear systems make everything easier and more fair. That said, the system depends on the needs of the kid so it takes some tinkering. Here's how it works at our house:

Bedtime starts at 7pm-- toothbrushing, snuggles, song, reading etc. Kids in bed by around 7:30. Our youngest is basically asleep when his head hits the pillow but wakes up at 5am. He sneaks out quietly and plays downstairs until my partner gets up around 6:30.

Our eldest reads until 8:30pm. Then we come in and give one more snuggle and turn out the light. At that point we start 'checks'. We set a timer and every ten minutes one of us comes in and says 'I love you! I'm checking on you!' If she's having a hard time sleeping/feeling nervous/needs a drink of water we deal with it then. She's usually asleep by 9 or 9:15 and up at 7:00.

Because there are 2 of us and we split the checks, I only have to interrupt my 'me time' once every 20 minute until she's out which feel reasonable and she feels taken care of and not scared and there is no reason for her to get out of bed and get us unexpectedly. She needs a lot of sleep so our situations are not identical but we are fiercely protective of our grown up time and I believe it makes me a better and calmer parent to have it. At times where she has had a particularly hard time falling asleep we often turn on a story podcast. And all bets are off if she is sick, or has a friend over, or is really upset about something, etc..

Adjusted for your child's sleep time I guess you would start the bedtime routine around 8:30 and that half hour change might feel like a gift to your kid.

Anyways Tl:Dr Nothing to to feel guilty about. Clear systems help. Podcasts are awesome.
posted by jeszac at 8:13 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

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