At the start of the pandemic, when my family was locked down in our 800-square-foot New York City apartment and reeling from the pivot to remote work and no school or day care, an Instagram post from Glennon Doyle saved my sanity.
Her post was primarily about how parents should embrace screen time as a survival tool. But she also offered a theory that sticks with me still, two years on: the idea that all parents really need to do is finish their days with their kids well. Doyle hatched her theory when she worked as a preschool teacher. She’d spend hours devising thoughtful activities and lesson plans to fill the kids’ hours, but ultimately what they remembered most was whatever came at the end of their days.
“This is my philosophy with all things children now. All you have to do is finish strong,” Doyle said in her video post.
I loved this advice then, and I love it still now because it feels like self-compassion. I remembered it last night when, after a day with my younger son that involved more tears and nagging than I’d like, we salvaged the day with a big bedtime hug and a chat about the relative merits of dump trucks versus forklifts. After a pretty blah parenting day, it was the reset we both needed.
Of course, Doyle isn’t the only one preaching the power of ending the evening on a high note. Here’s why the last thing you say at night can be so powerful — and how to work on “finishing strong” with your kiddo.
The Power Of Nighttime Routines And Rituals
Consistency is essential to children, parents are told time and again, because it’s true. Establishing routines with younger children can help strengthen the connections in their brains that help them make sense of their days. Research suggests that kids with strong family routines tend to be emotionally healthier than those without.
Bedtime routines help set clear expectations for behavior and (ideally) help make kids feel relaxed and primed for sleep. A good, consistent bedtime routine may help improve your relationship, if for no other reason than it will help ensure they’re getting enough zzz’s. (Reminder: Kids need substantially more sleep than adults.)
But nighttime rituals and routines serve a strong emotional purpose, too. Kids need to feel that they’re getting plenty of together time and love during their days. Making sure to emphasize connection at bedtime can help fill that cup.
“All kids are wired for positive attention and emotional connection from us on a daily basis,” said Amy McCready, founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and author of “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic.” “If they don’t get it proactively, they’ll act out in ways to get attention and power.”
Remember: Bedtime Battles Aren’t Inevitable
While I’m personally heartened by the idea that I can turn around a crappy day with a decent nighttime routine, sometimes that feels impossible. My preschooler excels at dragging out bedtime. Many nights, I’m a frazzled, grumpy shell of myself with little left to give emotionally.
That’s why I like McCready’s focus on what she’s dubbed “mind, body and soul time.” It is a simple strategy that can help minimize bedtime battles and give kids the sense of connection they so crave.
“Here’s how it works: Plan to spend 10 to 15 minutes of one-on-one time with your child at bedtime after they have gone through their to-do lists (teeth brushed, room tidied, etc.),” McCready said. “Minimize distractions — no cellphones, no TV blaring in the background, no mental to-do lists running through your mind! During this time, be fully present in mind, body and soul — and play or do something your child wants to do.”
That could be reading a book, playing a silly game, listening to some wind-down music, she said — what matters is that you let your kiddo call the shots.
“By doing so, you’re filling [their] bucket with the essentials to feel loved, safe, secure and valued — no matter what else happened that day,” McCready said. “What a great way to end each day and promote peaceful sleep, for them and you!”
Be sure to let them know this is something they can expect regularly, she added. Again, it comes down to establishing routines and rituals and fostering connection. McCready suggests saying something like: “Spending this time with you is the best way to end my day, and I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.”