The post on late afternoon melt-downs (see the post entitled “Smearing Peas” on this blog) got me thinking (thanks Erin!) about how to structure your rhythm and life toward having a peaceful dinnertime hour and bedtime routine. Here are just a few ideas that have worked for us in the past, and some of them may work for you.
1. Do not schedule lots of things outside of the home. No matter how much your child loves to go, go, go, most young children under the age of 7 are calmest when they spend large portions of time at home and are less apt to melt down from an over-stimulating day if they don’t have that day to begin with. Young children thrive on repetition and rhythm. If you feel your child needs something “more” to do, look at your own rhythm and work first and what you are doing with them second.
2. Do make sure they are getting plenty of outside time, no matter what the weather. If you do need to go out and run errands with your child, see if you can go out in the early morning and plan to be home in the afternoon. Your whole day should be geared toward working toward that early peaceful bedtime, and releasing the physical energy that young children have because they live in their bodies is key.
3. If your children sleep until 9 or 10 in the morning, they will not go to bed at night. You cannot have it both ways. I personally would rather have a night and have time with my spouse, so in our family our children go to bed around 7 or 7:15. If you want your children to go to bed, start moving the time you get up back, and move the naptimes back as well. If your child naps until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, they probably won’t be ready to go to bed at 7.
4. Start dinner in the morning. Use a crock-pot, make things ahead throughout the day, whatever you need to do to make sure you can have dinner ready to go. Many times mothers say they delay dinner so their husband can get home and eat with the children as well. I understand that, but how about going ahead and feeding your children dinner, and then providing a snack when dad comes in? It puts you closer to bedtime, and the children still get to share a small meal with dad.
5. Offer a snack while you are cooking dinner, and have ways your child can participate with dinner, whether that is washing dishes in the sink as you go, setting the table, chopping up a vegetable. If that fails to get their attention, is there anything rhythmical they can do while you cook? Homemade play dough comes to mind, sifting flour through a little manual sifter, having an indoor sand tray with toys, brushing the dog if they are able to do that. Kids that are just on the edge of melting down that time of day often need something physical and rhythmical to do.
6. If taking a bath is traumatic and just gears everything up, consider doing the bath in the morning or even after lunch. Sometimes small children go through phases where they do not want to get in the bathtub. Perhaps they would like a shower with a hand held sprayer or just being washed with a washcloth, or they need the bath at a different time.
7. Make sure your whole dinnertime and bedtime routine is not taking too long. Sometimes we have these elaborate bedtime routines and the kids just need to get into bed. If they are really melting through the normal routine of bath and brushing teeth and such, you may even be starting it too late.
8. Consider oral storytelling as opposed to reading picture books at night for small children under the age of 7. Picture books have pictures for the eye and brain to process, and oral storytelling keeps the child creating their own pictures in their own heads, much more calming and restful.
9. Consider the use of music – your own singing – as a way to help induce sleep or strumming on a kinderlyre. Some children respond very well to this warmth that touches them down into their soul.
10. Consider and rule out allergies to foods and fibers. If your child is completely itchy from what they are wearing, if the tag is bothering them, if their feet are cold, if they ended up with something for dinner that they are sensitive to, then bedtime and sleeping will be much more difficult.
Peaceful afternoons and nights are possible with small children, it just takes some planning.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.