Revving Up Kids Before Bed - How Bad?

Filed under: Feeding & Sleeping, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers

"Oh never mind that," a mom friend yells into the phone, "That's just daddy doing the 'Nightly Bedtime Revving Up of our Children Just Before Sleep.'" She sounds frustrated, yet at our house, I can't help but notice that Daddy manages to run the children screaming all around, then wrap up playtime, brush teeth, sing a little song and say good night once and for all, sending them off into dreamland.

So, maybe some loud-screamy-playtime before bed isn't so bad ... but it seems like such a bad idea. Is it? To find out, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take on the situation.

"Children go to sleep well and consistently when they have a good routine and enough winding down time so they're downshifting from high gear into sleep mode. If you get them really worked up and then try to get them right into bed, they may still feel like 'Hey, it's silly time! Let's party!'"

So it's not a good idea? "Well, it's not necessarily a bad idea, if you're going to have fun play time but you're still leaving enough time for some wind-down in your routine for the night, then you'd probably be okay." So is it all about consistency or all about timing, I ask Tobey. A little of both, she replies. Some things to keep in mind:
Make a presleep connection. "I don't think this question is truly about revving them up, this sounds like it's about the father connecting with the children one last time before bedtime, which is great. It sounds like the father is having some playtime with them and then follows a regular routine and tucks them into bed, which is working well." So why mess with success, right?

Know when to stop. Seems obvious but worth repeating: "When the children start whining or complaining that they're getting hurt or tired, it's time to wrap it up."

Have a routine. This is key, Tobey says, "Children need to know what to expect." Does it have to be the same routine with each parent? "It doesn't have to be exactly the same routine with each parent, however, the children should know what to expect with each parent, and both parents should follow the basic bedtime steps like brushing teeth." This part is also biological, Tobey explains, "When you follow a bedtime pattern regularly, each step signals the brain: Hey, it's almost sleep time! A regular pattern can really set you up for bedtime success."

Leave enough time. "If you want them in bed at 7:30pm you need to start at 6:45pm. Whatever your routine is: play, bed, bath, book ... it might even take an hour." Be respectful of the routine and the time it takes to do the same thing every night.

Lighten up during the holidays and vacations.
Keep expectations reasonable when travel or visitors are involved. Tobey's suggestion for traveling kids who are off their sleep schedule? "Feed them all the time," she advises. "Little healthy snacks so at least you don't pile hunger on top of being exhausted." That, and also try to add a little more patience than usual, "They'll be overtired and may be crabby and you should expect that -- when they're at a different house or you have people coming to see them, they're going to be excited and then you have to ask yourself, 'Well, what's the worst thing that can happen if they stay up late for a few nights?' Seeing people you love is worth upsetting the routine."

If you've ever had
a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

Related: Helping Your Child Sleep Independently, More How Bad?


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.