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Should younger siblings always have earlier bedtimes?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Rethinking bedtime routines

Every fall, when school starts, we have several weeks of figuring out and adjusting to the new routine. We try variations on the bits at home until we find what is going to work the best for all of us. Some school years, the adjustment takes longer than others. This year has taken longer, and specifically getting the bedtime routine right.

One of the parenting decisions my husband and I have made about which we feel particularly strongly is the need for a consistent bedtime routine. It helps set the stage for a good night's sleep, and sufficient sleep is such an important part of health! As part of this, we make sure we're spending time with each child as part of the routine, as appropriate to age.

When it's not quite working

Given wake up time needs based on when each of the kids leaves for school (three different ones this year!), we tried just a slight variation on what we've been doing. Getting the youngest to bed, then the next oldest, and so on. But my younger two need to have lights our very close in time to one another - and we were all feeling like bedtime was rushed for everyone. There didn't seem to be enough time to give each of my younger kids what they really need! And that was actually causing the kids bedtime to get pushed later, which affected wake up....and domino continued.

Shake it up!

After a less than ideal evening of getting the house settled down, I had an epiphany. Where is it written that my youngest child (5) has to go to bed before the older siblings (9 and 13)? Why is it the norm? Shouldn't the "norm" be giving the kids what they need at bedtime, no matter the birth order?

Since my middle child has the earliest bus, to get the appropriate amount of sleep he needs to be in bed first. If I spend a little time with him before lights out while his younger sibling brushes teeth and all that, I could be less rushed with her bedtime routine. My oldest can keep his current bedtime since he needs the least from me.

I wondered if it would really work, though, and would the kids balk?

Needs before birth order

I talked with the kids about my idea. Well, I talked with my son, the one who would have lights out before his little sister. The bedtime by birth order "rule" seems so common, so accepted - but why? "Just because" or "it's always been that way" don't seem like real reasons. Why does birth order trump individual needs? Would there be social stigma if his friends found out? Turns our my son was completely cool with my idea. He understood that the bottom line was making sure he and his sister each have their needs met and each get appropriate sleep - and he loved the idea of me not being rushed in my time with him. Gotta give the kid credit there.

So we tried it - and we think we've found our solution to bedtime routines this school year. It worked great, and we were all happier in process and the next morning.

As much as I think I have a general idea of what I am doing as a parent, something always comes along and puts me right back in my place, and forces me to rethink. And it's in thinking beyond the norm, beyond the "usual" where we find the solutions that will be right for our individual families. Thinking outside the box - or in this case, outside the birth order - is where we found the solution.

For more on kids and sleep:

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