Do we really need research from a medical journal to tell us that small children need early bedtimes, and above all a regular bedtime routine?
Such is my Pavlovian response to the Wombles’ theme tune, played throughout the 1970s at 6pm, that when I occasionally hear it now, I yearn to get undressed and climb into a bath.
Children’s TV still reflects this crucial daily juncture; witness Iggle Piggle settling down en route to the land of Nod in the surreal In The Night Garden.
Indeed, so enjoyable was my own routine set up by myself for my own offspring, that I have sort of been hoist by my own petard by it, since with four, it now takes about two hours to complete, and the younger three still insist on it. Every night. In fact, bedtime for my children was one of the reasons I reluctantly knocked my fledgling career as a theatre critic on the head. Being out at the theatre four times a week, every week, was ruinous to “Milk and Story” as my kids call it.
On the plus side, I now have a seriously hot knowledge of children’s literature, as I have ploughed through everything, from JD Salinger to Laura Ingalls Wilder by way of David Walliams.
Now I can smugly reassure myself that showbiz’ loss (ha ha) is my children’s gain, since the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which surveyed the lifestyles of over 10,000 children born between September 2000 and January 2002, has found a link between strict bedtime routines and intellectual performance.
The older the child, the less marked the difference, but generally speaking, the authors found that consistent bedtimes are linked to cognitive development.
About which I think there are two things to say. First, if you are not a theatre critic, or working nights, carve out a proper routine for your children. Turn your phone off and devote 20 minutes to the task. Every night. Yes, even weekends. Going out? Order the babysitter to do it. Choose books you loved when you were young. Have the confidence to abandon things you hate. (I couldn’t get along with The Wind in the Willows). Sing a song. Read a poem. (Michael Rosen is a one-man treasure trove).
Second, put your own routine on the back burner. We are all now so focused on the ghastly notion of “Me Time”, because we are “worth it” that the deeply sad spectre of thousands of small children actually putting themselves to bed at any old time, now seems to be a reality. Yes, snapping off back to back Simpsons, and climbing up the stairs to read the somewhat tiresome Tales from Narnia is not as obviously engaging as pouring a glass of red and messing around on Twitter, but laying down a routine which will help your children’s brains develop properly, seems to me to be as crucial as buying them shoes which fit.