The {Secret} to a 20-minute Bedtime Routine


bedtime routine

You know that baby shower ritual where everyone goes around the room and gives advice to the mom-to-be? I’m four children and nearly eight years in to motherhood, and for years now I’ve had the same (always shocking) advice: Skip baby’s nightly bath.

Is a freshly clean newborn snuggled in a towel the cutest thing ever? Yes! Do you swoon with endorphins every time you look at your little bundle squirming around while you apply scent-free, organic lotion your college bestie sent? Yes! But here’s the thing: Give a newborn a bath every night before bed and before you know it you’ll be a servant bath-giver to a three-year-old who can’t go to sleep without a warm bath and lotion.

I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve known who have run their marriages in to the ground (or dangerously near!) by taking an hour or more to put their children to bed. The culprits: reading, singing, and baths.

I’m for reading. The reading log, uh, not so much (but, I digress). Reading, yes. Reading at bedtime? Oh, no. Not with three emerging readers. Someday I’ll be glad they are all such voracious readers with widespread interests from Pinkalicious to panthers. But not at 7:30 on a school night. We read, including assigned reading for school, over breakfast. We read after school. Sometimes, we even read at dinner. They get their 20 minutes and more (I got you, reading log), but they don’t get it at bedtime.

I grew up with a family that had a “family song” that had been sung to children in their family at bedtime for five generations. For sure, sing that at bedtime. One family song and done. But endless requests, just one more, sing me to sleep, equals a bedtime routine that drags on til the fat lady…you know what.  

Confession: my oldest is seven, and I spoil her (and the others) rotten with bath time. She has a fuzzy robe and I rub her hands and feet with fancy, sweet-smelling lotion; trim her nails; clean her ears; comb her hair; clean and moisturize her face with a cotton ball; and rub her back on “spa days.” So it’s not that I’m not about a good solid bath ritual. But kids don’t need a bath every day, and including even a simple bath as part of bedtime guarantees it’s going to take twice as long as it could take otherwise.

A shorter bedtime routine isn’t just better for you and your partner, in my experience it’s better for children, too. They go to bed peacefully without bargaining for more stories and songs or dawdling (while you nag) after bath time. There’s nothing to negotiate or nag about when bedtime is streamlined into 20 minutes: get in jammies, brush teeth, use the bathroom, prayers and/or one family song, and 10 minutes of quiet snuggles. Here are some quick tips for making it happen:

  1. Cut everything that can be “one more’d” – reading (read that one just one more time!), singing (just one more song!). Read over breakfast. Sing in the car.
  2. Cut baths from bedtime routine. Do bath time after school, before dinner, in the morning, but not as part of bedtime. Baths and their aftermath are a serious time sucker when it comes to an efficient bedtime. Kids don’t need a bath every day.
  3. Lay jammies out in the morning, or sometime well before bed time. Nothing gets a second wind going like a 5-year-old running around the house in undies looking for jammie bottoms.
  4. If you have more than one child, assign some to get in jammies first and some to brush teeth first. My babes are 7, 5, 3, and 6 months and one thing I can tell you: you don’t want multiple children under 8 having access to toothpaste in the same bathroom at the same time.

A shorter bedtime routine obviously maximizes the time you have on your own or with your partner in the evenings. But here’s another benefit: It maximizes the time you have to actually enjoy your children. Because when you cut your bedtime routine from an hour to 20 minutes, that gives you 40 extra minutes with them when you aren’t being a bedtime drill sergeant, hustling your little loves from one thing to the next. The 20-minute bedtime routine is a win for you, your partner, and your children.



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