There we were, merrily rolling along in family life with two rambunctious boys. We had some established routines that provided rhythm to our days. Our bedtime structure hadn’t changed much since our first son was an only child.

It’s a pretty typical routine: pajamas, teeth, books, and it had been going smoothly until suddenly we were blindsided with bedtime misbehavior.

We struggled to interpret the psychology behind the obnoxious, aggressive actions of our generally mild-mannered and cooperative four-year-old. We were stumped. (And tired. And pissed.)

Chaos ensued until it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t the behavior that needed addressing, but the routine. I really wasn’t sure exactly what needed changing, so I started brainstorming.

I was just about to order “Go The Fuck to Sleep” on Amazon, but then, while reading the bedtime classic (and probably more appropriate book choice) “Goodnight Moon,” I had an epiphany.

This story names items in a bedroom of a young bunny. It’s lulling, rhythmic wording serves as a powerful sleep cue for a child’s brain as it repeats “goodnight” throughout the story. This sleep cue strategy often shows up in recommendations for establishing healthy sleep habits with children.

Author Elizabeth Pantley suggests using verbal sleep cues and emphasizes the importance of consistent bedtime routines with the development of her no-cry sleep training program.

So, taking inspiration from “Goodnight Moon,” and research from experts in the field of restorative sleep, I created a new and improved routine that has put an end to our bedtime battles.

Introducing the bedtime ritual

  • Each family member collects three special items from around the house
  • We have a “show and tell” session, explaining why we chose our special items
  • We display all the items on the bedroom dresser
  • Snack, pajamas, toothbrushing – much of our routine remains pretty ordinary
  • Our preschooler spends a few minutes playing alone in his room while I nurse the baby
  • We read a few books
  • We give thanks for whatever brought us joy that day, whether it was a trip to the zoo or a perfect cup of coffee
  • Before climbing into bed for snuggles, we say goodnight to each family member’s special items, then to each other
  • We say things in the same order every time

It works like a charm!

After just a few nights with this new routine and goodnight ritual, bedtime began to go much more smoothly. They’re both sleeping later into the morning. Our older son falls asleep faster, and the baby has been sleeping longer stretches and delights in saying goodnight to everything.

We don’t even need a bowl of mush or a hidden mouse.