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If you’re a parent of small children, you probably face the nightly bedtime routine with some amount of dread. There are so many to-do’s, moving, slippery parts, hyper children, and hygiene perils (see: bathwater, drinking) to deal with—plus an unparalleled appetite for chaos and stalling that seem to hit as soon as the bedtime countdown clock begins.

In my house, there are naked cartwheels, hallway chases that sound like a stampede, and enough screams to damage an ear drum. All while I nurse the low-grade anxiety that the kitchen isn’t cleaned up from dinner, and I’ll have that waiting for me when all the cacophony wraps up around 9 p.m. And this is on a good night of minimal quarrels.

The only thing worse than trying to manage all the frantic energy as part of a bedraggled parental tag team? Doing it by yourself. We salute single parents who do this day in and day out—you probably mastered this game long ago. For those thrust into solo bedtime due to a spouse’s occasional absence, though, here are some tips to help you make it to the other side of bedtime unscathed.

Start their bedtime routine early

If you and your partner can get it done together in 45 minutes, you should budget at least an hour and a half to get it done yourself. Anticipate that everything will take longer, and budget for double the time it usually takes. Then, instead of racing against an unattainable deadline and absorbing the silent worry that you’re behind and everyone will be impossible to wake up tomorrow, you can relax the chokehold on time and avoid getting (more) bent out of shape by every delay.

Prepare all the things

When you’re outnumbered, preparation is your best friend. Little kids faced with unwanted slumber always get up to shenanigans, but you’ll save yourself trouble by performing transitions quickly. Prep the bedrooms and have all the supplies within arm’s reach. Gather all diapers, Pull-Ups, lotion, and creams. Turn on noise machines, close all curtains, pull down comforters, and turn on bedside table lamps. Make sure the necessary hairbrushes, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are on hand. Some parents recommend laying all necessary items on each child’s bed. But in our experience, that doesn’t work nearly as well as the next suggestion.

Get them completely ready in the bathroom

If your bathroom is big enough to hold everyone, consider it command central. As soon as the crew has entered, no one can leave until they’re finished getting ready. Bring all supplies into the bathroom, close the door, and don’t open it again until the last tooth has been brushed. Because in my house, once one bare hiney breaks free, it’s the beginning of the end of my reign as a person ostensibly in control of the situation.

Consolidate activities

Wherever possible, consolidate activities. Put two kids in the same bath, read books together, have the oldest child help the younger child brush hair or teeth. Wherever two kids can reasonably do the same activity, instruct them to do it together. Granted, it doesn’t always work to have three kids of various ages curled up for story time. (In my house, the youngest loses interest and starts climbing over people, looking to start mischief.) It may make sense to read to two of the younger kids, while the older child(ren) read or draw by themselves.

Or stagger them

Depending on your kids’ ages and temperaments, it can make sense to stagger bedtime prep. While one bathes, the other watches a show (then vice versa). Maybe the oldest gets a few extra minutes on their favorite educational computer game (Dream Box, Freckle, or the like) while the younger two get a head start on their bath. For me, the most important element of staggering is keeping the two most “spirited” kids apart. Those who bicker, butt slap, or collapse into hysterical giggle fits at the word “diaper” the most, I separate for as long as possible.

Use rewards (and timers)

While not ideal, a little extra screen time can go a long way toward making solo bedtime tolerable. In our house, we dangle a pre-bedtime show as a carrot to get them to move through the motions quickly. Whoever is ready first gets first pick of show. (All the easier if they each have a personal device.)

Don’t shy away from using a timer, either. You can set it for the shower, PJs, and teeth brushing, and for when all TV/iPads need to be shut off. If more screen time isn’t your thing, use the visual aid of a sticker chart or bedtime checklist. You can set a target time for them to complete all the tasks, and provide 10 extra minutes of their favorite activity whenever the goal time is met.

  



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