Most of the time parents bring their child to therapy at a point of fatigue and confusion. Whether their child is struggling with anxiety, a new sibling, an ADHD diagnosis, defiance at home, or a lack of self-esteem, they are looking for ways to be a more effective parent. Sometimes they have tried everything. Sometimes they know they could do more, but their hands are tied with work or with their other children.  

This magical bedtime routine is all about quality of time, not quantity. For those that are lucky enough to tuck their kids into bed every night, this is for you. But what if you can only do it twice a week? This is for you too. It only takes 30 minutes, but you can take as long as you want. “What if I can only do 15?” That’s ok. 15 minutes, even 10 minutes dedicated to your child will have a profound effect on your relationship and their well-being. 

Ten Reasons to Invest in a Bedtime Routine 

  1. Increase the quality of their sleep 
  1. Increase their self-esteem 
  1. Increase their self-expression 
  1. Decrease their anxiety 
  1. Improve their emotional regulation 
  1. Improve your parent-child connection 
  1. Increase trust and attunement in your relationship with your child 
  1. Provide a safe space to process their feelings 
  1. Be more aware of their inner world 
  1. Repair small ruptures in your relationship that happen through discipline 

The Three Parts of the Magical Bedtime Routine from a Houston play Therapist

  • 10-15 minutes of imaginary playtime
  • 5-10 minutes of reading a book and a 5-minute discussion
  • 1-3 minute ‘I love you ritual’
Image of a father and child reading a bedtime story per a houston play Therapists recommendation.

Part One: 10-15 minutes of imaginary playtime 

Play is children’s favorite way of connecting, learning, and regulating! Have you ever had the “Sunday Scaries”? Most of the time, it’s because you are lying in bed, thinking about all the work you must do the next day. You’re ticking off your checklist and brainstorming how you are going to problem-solve. Before you know it, your body and mind are wired up and you can’t fall asleep.

All this time, planning and calculating you are in your left brain–the analytical side of your brain that is responsible for problem-solving. This side of the brain writes emails, calculates totals, and solves problems. But it is also the side of the brain where anxiety lives. This is the side of the brain our children use all day in school learning and doing homework. Just like us, our kids put their heads on the pillow and mentally prepare for the next day. We might even as parents perpetuate this by going over what will happen tomorrow at school. While we think we are helping to prepare our kids for what is going to happen, we are also firing up the wrong side of the brain. Instead, what we want is to connect with our right brain before bed. Our right brain, our creative side of the brain is the fastest way to get into our bodies, out of our anxious minds, and get regulated. Play is the absolute best way of doing this.  

Houston therapist visual to understand the brain.

The benefits of play are enormous. Not only does it regulate our bodies, but it is our kid’s best way of learning and connecting. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, (Yogman, et. All 2018)  

“Appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.” In addition, “The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement (harmonious serve and return interactions) that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response.” (Yogman, et. All 2018.) 

For the full article on the importance of play, click here.

“What does playing before bed look like?” 

Pretend to be pirates on a big ship with your child– find buried treasure in your child’s hamper. Or, be aliens from another planet discovering all the interesting things in your child’s room. Or just let your child lead you in play with her Barbies.  

“I try to play with my kids, but it is so boring.” 

That’s why it’s only ten minutes. But if it feels like too much, try a short board game or card game. Play a round of Uno, Jenga, or Pickup Sticks. Another great option is to free draw. Grab blank paper and some markers and draw a picture for each other. I recommend blank paper because sometimes coloring books can be too analytical, require too much concentration, and not be so regulating. 

Part 2: 5-10 minutes reading a book and then 5 minutes of discussion 

After your kids play, a book is a great way to transition for quiet time. In addition, books are a great way to engage in meaningful discussions with our children that foster connection and self-esteem. Below are some great prompts to ask your children. 

  1. How do you think the main character felt when… 
  1. Have you ever felt like the main character? 
  1. What was your favorite page or part of this book? 
  1. Were there any words you’ve never heard before in this book? 

Click here to view some of my favorite books right now.

Part 3: 1-3 minute “I love you” ritual 

Lastly, for optimal regulation, a sense of security, and felt love, we want to incorporate an “I Love You” ritual before you turn the light out. The best “I love you” rituals include three things: 

  1. Eye contact 
  1. Nurturing touch 
  1. Rhythmic, repetitive movement 

Dr. Bruce Perry, author of the New York Times Best-selling book, “What Happened to You” (Perry, Winfrey,. 2021) writes about the power of patterned, repetitive, rhythmic activity in calming the body and securing a child’s sense of safety.  

“One of the most powerful sets of associations created in utero is the association between patterned repetitive rhythmic activity from maternal heart rate, and all the neural patterns of activity associated with not being hungry, not being thirsty, and feeling ‘safe’ (in the womb).” 

“Patterned, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory activity… elicits a sensation of safety.  Rhythm is regulating.  All cultures have some form of patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity as part of their healing and mourning rituals — dancing, drumming, and swaying.” 

For more information on Dr. Bruce Perry and his neuro sequential model, visit

What does this look like? 

Put your child’s head in your lap, or rub their feet and hands, while you sing or sing/talk your favorite song or affirmation. Below is an affirmation I like to give to parents: 

Parents say with eye contact: 

“I love you in the morning, 

I love you in the evening, 

I love you when you’re happy or sad. 

I love you when you’re angry, 

I love you when you’re worried, 

You’re the best baby I have ever had.” 

Rub noises, kiss cheeks, or give a hug. 

The Magical Bedtime Routine is a small investment in the most precious relationship there is, child and caregiver. Giving your child this gift routinely will reduce demonstrating that they matter, that they are loved, and that they are safe. Looking forward to their bedtime routine will foster a sense of security while they are away from you and nurture positive moments when you are together.  

Houston Therapist eager to work with you on your counseling journey.

About the Author:

Hey there! My name is Stephanie Farugia Toomes, I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I have been with BPC since I finished my master’s program at Pepperdine University in 2019. I am privileged to work with clients of all ages and love to help parents and their children connect. The magical bedtime routine is something that I have been recommending for years to transition the connective activities we do in family therapy to become a part of a family’s routine. I find, that once parents are given the right tools and support, the most influential change will happen at home. 

How BPC can help: 

If you or your family could use some support, we would love to help. We are a team of play therapists committed to helping you and your family access the right tools and therapy to help you turn your dream of a connected, healthy, happy family into reality. For a free consultation, click here.

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