Set the mood with bedtime stories
It wasn't until I became a mother that I realized how many children's books end with a bedtime scene. Brilliant! Everyone from Harold and his purple crayon to the Hush Little Baby bunny drifts off to sleep on the last page, making these books sublime choices after 7 p.m. Not-so-good: titles that involve finding hidden duckies or have cliffhanger chapter endings. The idea is to wind 'em down, not rev 'em up.
Also, pick books whose number of sentences per page match your child's age -- one for a 1-year-old, two for a 2-year-old, and so on. (No scientist or reading specialist came up with this formula, just me.) And negotiate the number of books you'll read at the start: One long one? Two shorts? Resist the whines for "Just one more?"
Watch the clock
I've never been a stickler for scheduling in other areas of parenting, but by bedtime I'm happy to be alarm-clock prompt. My goal: a puffy chair and an empty lap by 8:05 p.m. It doesn't always happen, but I always try.
Just as I know that by 7 we run the bathwater, I expect that by 7:30 we're toweling off. (We bathe in multiples around here, and the older they get, the more pj-donning and book reading they do themselves.) Forge through all that threatens to knock you off schedule -- the errant tantrum, the ill-timed phone call, a sibling squall. Fight your own mind-numbing fatigue urging you to let the kids crash on their own just this once. Tomorrow they'll expect it to be the new routine, and it will take them twice as long to settle. Onward!
Not least, it's a terrific feeling to look at the clock at 8:05 and know that, although I broke my diet again today and still haven't done laundry, at least I've met one goal: They're asleep!
Thank goodness, said the mama. Now I can...do all those things I didn't get around to doing when my little monkeys were awake!
Contributing editor Paula Spencer is coauthor, with Jill Stamm, Ph.D., of Bright From the Start.