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At Bedtime Board Game, our focus is on helping young kids (and their loving but exhausted parents) create a stress-free and playful evening routine. But once the little ones have earned all those shiny gems, read their bedtime stories and received their goodnight kisses, we realize that they still have to… well… sleep.
And if that doesn’t happen – and at my house, it often doesn’t – then all those superstar parenting feelings I built up by playing Bedtime Board Game fade pretty quickly. (Read: It’s hard to relax on the couch and enjoy the evening’s earlier victories when our 4-year-old daughter keeps running down the hall to tell us that she “just can’t fall asleep,” and we end up pausing Netflix in seven-minute intervals to walk her back to her room.)
Since the ‘big-girl bed’ came into our lives a few years ago, we’ve tried many tips, tricks and products to help our tiny Night Owl stay in bed and fall asleep more quickly. While we still haven’t found a golden ‘works every time’ solution, we have assembled a pretty strong toolkit of both high-tech and low-tech options.
As noted above, all the products featured here are things my family has actually purchased and used. We’re not receiving any incentive from the brands for highlighting them. They are simply items I use, love and wholeheartedly recommend to other parents and caregivers.
The soft, slowly narrated stories in the kids’ section of this best-selling app have become a nightly staple for my preschooler. There are more than 120 stories to choose from, each running about 30 minutes.
We let my daughter select her own and start it playing on an iPad as we leave her bedroom. She often picks tales with her favorite characters, including Trolls, Peppa Pig and My Little Pony, but sometimes she prefers the soft music in the Lullabies section. My family originally purchased the Calm app subscription for my husband, but my daughter uses it far more, and it’s nice to have it available at home or while traveling. The one downside is that, if your children are still awake after their selection ends and your phone or tablet uses a lock screen, you will likely need to go in and help start a new story.
On the nights when soft songs are preferable to stories, we’ve come to depend on the huge selection of instrumental songs and playlists on YouTube. We purchased a YouTube Premium subscription so my daughter’s sleep wouldn’t be interrupted with ads, and we frequently let the music play all night. As with Calm, this solution requires a laptop, phone or tablet you can leave in your child’s room.
This night light, programmed and controlled with parents’ phones, has been terrific for giving our daughter visual and auditory cues aligned with the times she is supposed to be in her bed. For example, when the blue light comes on and the lullaby starts playing nightly at 8 p.m., she knows it’s bedtime. And if she wakes up before the purple light comes on in the morning, she knows it’s too early to get out of bed. My sister loves to use this for afternoon quiet time too. She manually turns the light on with her phone when she is ready for her son to come out of his bedroom.
Families can choose light colors, white noise sounds or lullabies for the various daily programs. My one complaint is that there are only a few songs to choose from (think Rock-A-Bye Baby and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star), and they get too repetitive to play for long stretches of time.
Most families probably already have a cadre of stuffed animals or dolls that are critical to bedtime, but I decided to add these to the collection because of their larger size and extremely soft fur. At 15 inches long, they’re bigger than most of the “friends” we already owned – better for petting and snuggles. More than a year after we got two, they’re still among my daughter’s favorites. And, I bought them with my daughter under the solemn agreement that, “We’re getting these to help you stay in your bed and fall asleep at night. That’s what they’re for.”
I’m a big fan of the whole Slumberkins social and emotional book line, created by a family therapist and special ed teacher, and my admiration started with Sloth. I purchased the board book and companion toy for my daughter when she was 2. The simple story is great for very young children and includes deep breathing exercises and body-calming techniques my toddler and I did together. “Now notice your shoulders, arms and hands. Are they still awake, or ready for dreamland? Squeeze them tight, now let them go. Feel them melting like the snow.” It was a sweet and effective way for both of us to relax before bed.
Credit for this idea goes to my sister (another Bedtime Board Game mama). She created a simple game involving the inexpensive, flameless candles many people already have in their homes. My nephew starts the night with three tea lights turned on next to his bed. Each time he gets out of bed or calls for his parents, they turn out one light. If he reaches the morning with one candle still lit, he earns a small reward like a piece of candy, a sticker or extra time doing an activity he likes. (Full disclosure: While I love this idea, it had short-lived success in my house. My daughter quickly realized how to turn the candles back on by herself and then stopped abiding by them all together…)
On those nights after my daughter’s had an unsanctioned daytime nap, and it’s clear she’s going to be awake for a good long while, I turn to the Vooks website or app. The company partners with children’s book publishers to bring the books’ original illustrations to life while a narrator reads the story aloud.
There are hundreds of books in the subscribers’ library, including seasonal stories, stories in Spanish and stories for different age groups. (I learned about this website through its partnership with Slumberkins. Their Creatures Full of Feelings book is among Vooks’ free offerings.) Unlike the stories on the Calm app, Vooks are designed to be listened to and watched on a device, so this isn’t usually the tool that gets my daughter to sleep. But it is a good choice for helping her calm down and stay in bed on her own.
My daughter received a Warmies plush toy as a gift when she was sick this year. It’s a weighted stuffed animal filled with grains and lavender that parents can heat in the microwave to make it extra relaxing and cuddly. I love the concept, but I give this one an honorable mention because if (like me) you’re not a fan of the lavender scent, you’re out of luck. At my house, we’ve copied the idea (without the smell) by letting my daughter sleep with an old-fashioned warm water bottle, and it does the trick!
Looking for more tools to help take the struggle out of nights with young children? Discover how Bedtime Board Game has already helped many families — starting with the founders themselves!