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How to create a bedtime routine for kids that works, in 30 minutes or less

The time for kids to go from wide awake to in bed and falling asleep can be whittled to 20 to 30 minutes, according to one expert. (iStock)

Bedtime is such a chore for parents that there’s a book with a profanity-laced title devoted to the subject. Behavior that seemed cute at 8 a.m. is anything but when everyone is exhausted and the good-nights are stretching into the second hour.

Why do kids choose the day’s waning moments to unleash their neediness? And how can parents make bedtime more efficient?

Patricia Cancellier, the former education director of the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington, says it’s normal for behavior issues to be more prevalent when separation is imminent.

“It’s a prime time for them to come up with strategies to extend their time with you and keep you from leaving,” Cancellier says. It’s possible, though, to whittle bedtime rituals to 20 or 30 minutes, she said. Here are her suggestions to streamline the process.

Cut back on activities. Start by reconsidering the common over-scheduled family lifestyle, she says. When both parents are working, then carting the kids to a different extracurricular activity each night, it’s tough to have a consistent evening routine. The idea is to give kids some time to go from active to quiet and wind down. It’s not easy to say no to those activities, Cancellier acknowledges. But ask yourself what is more important: the family’s sanity, or a child’s extracurricular activities. Life will be easier if you can carve out freer evenings, she says.

Develop a schedule with the child. Set a firm bedtime with a predictable sequence of activities, Cancellier says. Involve the child in developing the schedule (to increase buy-in) and post it on the wall, specifying how many stories, songs, hugs and kisses will be included.

Use visual and verbal cues. Choose a phrase that everyone will use to reinforce the bedtime, such as “Our rule is that people are in bed by 7:30 for the night,” and be consistent with it. Talk about the routine at other times during the day, pointing to the schedule in the morning and recalling the one book you read and discussed the night before. That will reinforce the structure and expectations, Cancellier says.

But be patient. Plan for it to take at least two weeks for the new routine to really take hold, Cancellier says. In that time, everyone involved in the bedtime rituals should be at home each night and be working on establishing the new system.

Then stick to it. If your child tries to push the boundaries, be kind but firm. “Have a smile on your face and say, ‘What’s our rule?’ ” Cancellier says, adding that parents should hold their hand up in a non-accusatory way, with their palm open, and direct the child back to bed. Repeat as needed. Resist the tendency to get angry or show irritation with your child’s efforts to extend bedtime, because that will only prolong things.

“It’s harder for them to argue when you smile and just say it,” she says. “We get in this habit of nagging them when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, and that’s a surefire guarantee of them not doing what we want.”

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