When your kids were little, you had their bedtime routine down cold. A bath, once through Goodnight Moon, some cuddles, and maybe a lullaby, and you knew you'd done the right thing. Perhaps your child didn't always drift off without a peep, but you had the drill down. A funny thing happens, though, once your kids creep into the school years. They begin begging for one more half hour of Cartoon Network, insisting they're starving after their teeth have been brushed, asking why they can't read in bed as late as they'd like...and otherwise indulging in stall tactics that plenty of parents find hard to sidestep.
The fact is, at this age, a consistent bedtime routine (and hour) is at least as important as it was when your offspring spent their REM time in a crib. "Big kids also thrive on meaningful rituals that mark the end of the day," says sleep specialist Kathy Burklow, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. While it may be tempting to give your school-age child more responsibility in getting himself to sleep, he still very much needs your guidance to guarantee he gets the rest he needs. "The world is too tempting, and five- or even ten-year-olds simply don't have the maturity to say no to one more phone call to a friend or one more level on a video game," says Burklow.
Beyond getting your child off to bed on time, nightly rituals can carve out some quiet moments to connect, build family intimacy, and get everyone to relax. Try these 12 ideas -- some can be done every night, others as one-shot distractions when your child balks at bedtime. We bet at least one or two will become your family's new favorite way to end the day.
1. Study the stars
Gaze at the sky together for a few minutes before bed. Weather permitting, head outside and talk to your child about the incredibly deep shades of blue overhead -- you'll both feel an almost mystical connection to nature. Bring along a guidebook to constellations, a pair of binoculars, or a telescope to explore in more depth. Too cold to venture outdoors? Try this trick from Meryle Lowenthal of Westfield, New Jersey: "My seven-year-old son, Jacob, and I like to pull aside the shade on the window over his bed so we can look out and have our special end-of-the-day, what-phase-is-the-moon moment." Challenge yourself and your child to come up with new ways to describe the shapes you see -- a crescent can be a fingernail moon, full can be a soap bubble moon, and so on.