You get home from work, you’re late. Again. You feel awful, that working mum guilt hits you hard, it’s almost bedtime, and you want to play with the kids before they sleep, but when you do, they get so overexcited that bedtime takes twice as long, and someone ends up in tears (probably you.)
I know how it is, I've been there. So how do you make the most of that short, special time together before bed without getting them hyped up?
Whether it’s you or your partner who ends up in this position either often or sometimes, here are some ideas for some calming games for kids that you can do to avoid the overtired tears that start after bath time (yours again?)
This is a great time to chat to your child about their day, although if yours are anything like mine, they’ll say ‘fine’ and that will be the end of it. Playing a quiet game with them can give you a chance to chat in a way that encourages them to open up to you and strengthen your bond.
Some good questions to ask to encourage a conversation are:
- what was your favourite thing about today?
- who did you play with today?
- what did you have for lunch today?
- what made you laugh today?
- did anything make you feel sad today?
Another good idea is to put on some relaxing music or audio book to start winding down the day. Reading before bed is also a great way to help a child relax their mind, but this is likely to be part of your bedtime routine already, so I haven't included that here.
So here are some pre-bedtime games to encourage sleepiness and winding down the day, all with things that are easy to buy and keep on hand or you will find easily around the house without (too much) searching, so that you don’t eat into your valuable time getting distracted by how much laundry needs doing!
Calming Games for Kids
As games go, this is one of the quieter ones that doesn’t involve shouting and jumping like a ‘snap’ game. We have a lovely set from Tiger but there are loads online to choose from. When you're sick of explaining the game you can also try playing by lining up the pictures in one long line, stretching from one side of the room to the other, making sure that the pictures match all the way.
2. Colouring books
Ahh good old colouring books, I’m sure you’ve got one around the house somewhere, and perhaps your kid loves colouring in it, or perhaps it’s last on their list of things to play with, but it's totally different when you sit down to colour with them. This is such a great one to do while talking about what they learnt that day. The colouring doesn’t require much thought but also doesn’t require eye contact, so is a great opportunity to get those extra bits of info out that kids tend not to share when they’re watching their favourite TV programme or playing a game they love.
3. Pretend Cinema
This is a lovely one to encourage caring and sleepiness before the bedtime routine. You will need something to make a pretend cinema screen (you can do this for real in front of a TV, but I find that TV before bed doesn’t help calm down!) a selection of soft toys and a set of stairs if you have one, but if not, then a floor in front of the pretend screen will do it. Arrange all your soft toys in the cinema, putting the little ones at the front and the bigger ones at the back. The smaller animals may want to sit on your laps if they’re scared of course. Decide on your ‘film’ and talk through the plot. Once the film is finished, make sure you speak quietly, because the littlest animals have gone off to sleep now. Carry all the animals to bed and tuck them in.
4. Dinner at the Cafe
If your child has a play kitchen, let them take you out for dinner at the cafe. If you don't have a play kitchen you called also just use real crockery and cutlery at the big table. Use a tablecloth or sheet to make it different to every other day. You can then enjoy your dinner together as you talk about your day. Ask your child what food they had and what was their favourite thing to eat.
Choose puzzles suitable for your child’s age that you can easily do within the time so that you don’t have to stay up just that little bit longer to finish. You want calm children, not frustrated children so leave the 100 piece Thomas the Tank engine one, that you never seem to finish, for another day.
A family favourite, all you need for this is a large sheet or blanket and a smartphone or iPad. Cover yourselves with the sheet or blanket to create your igloo and play a crackling fire video, while pretending to warm your hands in front of the fire. Eat your fish dinner, then as the warming fire makes you sleepy, lay down your head for a long Winter's nap. Just try not to actually fall asleep yourself!
7. Doctors & Nurses
Anything nurturing and caring is great as a pre-bedtime game. Get your child to bandage your knee, take your temperature, and tuck you up with a blanket. You don’t need a special kit, some toilet roll will make do as a bandage, and a straw or something similar can double as a thermometer. You will, of course, need to return the favour, tucking your child up and letting everyone know they must talk quietly so that the sick patient can get better soon!
8. Village story time
We have this adorable wooden village set which is a great way to encourage imagination and enhance your child’s storytelling abilities. Make up a story about the villagers, and talk about what the villagers do in their day, a great preface to asking ‘what did *you* do today?’ You can also talk about how the villagers go off to sleep, do they also have a bath a book and a song?
9. Counting or sorting
Simple and easy to prep, just grab a couple of bags of beans, or beads or buttons and sort the different colours or shapes into an ice cube tray. A little pair of sweet or ice tongs are great fun to use to pick out the different colours. This one is not suitable for children under three.
10. Trinket box
This one needs a bit of prep before hand, but is a great thing to have on hand for bedtime. You will need a small tin or box. Fill it with things that are nostalgic, perhaps things from your childhood, photos of Mum and Dad as babies, little figurines or toys but none with wheels or that make a loud noise! You can talk about what your favourite things were growing up, and ask them what their favourite things are too.
11. Playing with a doll or soft toy
Another nurturing activity which shows care and mimics the bedtime that is about to come. Make sure you give them some food or a bottle and then change baby or teddy’s nappy (you can get the preemie nappies online or in a chemist, which are usually a good size for dolls and much cheaper than the ones made for the dolls) get them dressed for bed, rock them, and sing to them. Put them in a sling, a scarf makes a great doll sized sling, or lay them down for bed and tuck them in with goodnight kisses.
Those are our top ten ideas! What do you do in that time before bath and bed?