My son, Alex, and I used to enjoy bedtime stories and snuggles on a regular basis. But now that he’s 11, his nightly routine has been reduced to me nagging him about going to bed and then a quick hug before he tucks himself in. I miss our old routine, but since he’s capable—in theory—of doing it by himself, dropping it from our day seemed easier.
However, parents shouldn’t overlook the benefits of bedtime routines for big kids, says Shelly Weiss, a neurologist and sleep expert from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Data has shown that 40 percent of Canadian kids are sleep deprived, and our busy lifestyles are to blame: After-school activities, commutes, homework and screen time all cut into precious sleep. Kids between ages six and 13 should get nine to 11 hours a night, says Weiss. Parent involvement and a predictable schedule will help your child wind down and fall asleep more efficiently, at a reasonable hour.
Schedule time to bond
If you’re trying to tack one-on-one time onto the end of an already full day, you’ll likely rush it or choose to skip it altogether. Parents have to make time for the bedtime routine, says Weiss. Dawn Suzette Smith, a mom of two from Halifax, shifted her nine-year-old son Dylan’s bedtime earlier to add a few minutes for talking about the good and bad aspects of his day. Angela MacKay, a psychologist in Halifax, explains that giving kids a chance to decompress or confide in a parent may prevent them from lying awake thinking about their worries when they should be sleeping. “It’s really important to maintain that connection,” MacKay says, “especially at this vulnerable age, when kids are spending more time with their friends than with you.”
Last year’s ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth found that 76 percent of five- to 11-year-olds get more than the suggested two hours of screen time per day. Be sure to limit stimulating devices—including TV, video games, phones and tablets—before bed. “Electronics should definitely be shut off before the routine starts. If your child is going to be tempted to turn their device back on, then remove it from the bedroom,” adds Weiss.
Make it fun
Find an activity your kid enjoys—it could be as simple as reading out loud together, but if that’s not your kid’s idea of a good time, find out what is. Marcie Sharp, a mom of two from Shetland, Ont., and her nine-year-old son, Jake, have a shared journal in which they ask each other questions. Every night Jake finds the journal under his pillow with a question in it from his mom. Once he answers it and adds his own question for his mom, he sneaks into her room to hide it under her pillow. Sharp says she asks open-ended prompts, like, “What are you looking forward to?” while Jake’s questions usually involve Star Wars.
Follow their lead
Although the predictability of a routine is important, don’t be such a stickler that you misread what your kid needs, says MacKay. Eve Adams, a mom from Oakville, Ont., says her 10-year-old son, Jeff, sometimes wants to read together during their half-hour of “Jeff and Mommy time” before lights out but, more often, he wants to talk instead. “Lately he wants to chat about hockey,” says Adams, “but this is also the time when he shares if something is bothering him.” And what if your kid doesn’t want to open up? Follow their lead, says MacKay. “They might want you out of the room after 10 minutes, but you’re creating that space if they need it.”
As your kid gets older, you will have fewer chances for snuggles and long chats. “Enjoying this time as they go into adolescence will help you feel more fulfilled as a parent,” says MacKay. I’m going to restart the routine with Alex and grab those cuddles while I can.
Does your kid sleep in on Saturdays? It’s important to stick to a regular bedtime and waking-up time—even on weekends, says Shelly Weiss, a neurologist and sleep expert from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “It could vary a bit, say, 30 to 60 minutes. And there are always going to be special occasions when your child is up later. But the more consistent you are, the better.”
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.