If there’s one cliche that every pregnant woman becomes sick of hearing before she even gives birth, it’s probably “sleep when the baby sleeps.” That’s all well and good if the baby (or the toddler, or the pre-schooler) is sleeping adequately, but many times it’s a struggle for anyone in the household to get the right amount of ZZZs.
Since the amount and quality of sleep parents get is directly proportionate to that which the kids get, it only makes sense to implement good sleep habits as soon as possible. Newborns naturally have erratic sleep-wake cycles, so we’re not talking about very young children. But once a child reaches 10 or 12 months, it won’t hurt to begin establishing a routine. As your little one grows older, parts of that routine will change, but some elements will stay the same. Read on to learn what those elements are and why they’re important for good snoozin’!
Start with A Regular Bedtime
Once your baby starts reliably sleeping through the night, start thinking about a bedtime. This will become especially important as you enter the toddler years and beyond.
Children need a lot of sleep, so use these guidelines and work backward from whatever time you want them to get up in the morning. It’s OK to make exceptions to a strict bedtime once in a while, but that can be a slippery slope — especially as the child gets older and can put up more resistance!
Remember that children thrive when they follow a schedule and have certain routines. Giving them free rein — especially over big issues like when to sleep and wake up — can cause anxiety, insecurity, and behavioral issues.
Begin helping your child wind down from the day early on in the evening. Any screen time you let a toddler or young child have, in addition to being limited, should occur earlier in the day. Good activities to fill the pre-bedtime hours include family story time, coloring, drawing, quiet play with stuffed animals, dolls, or other non-electronic toys, and stretching or yoga for kids. These will help your child transition from the active, busy hours of the day to the bedtime routine.
Elements of a Bedtime Routine
Depending on the child’s age, the bedtime routine can last between 20 minutes and an hour. A soothing, calming bedtime routine could include:
- A warm bath, followed by brushing the teeth and getting into clean pajamas. Although you might sleep naked or wear the same t-shirt to bed you had on all day, having special clothes for sleeping is important for a child.
- A session of snuggling together and reading. A special rocking or gliding chair is nice to use for this if you have one. Set a number of books that you will read, and let the child choose them when she is old enough. You might also want to tell a bedtime story, one that you don’t tell at other times. A continuing saga can make bedtime something to look forward to!
- A bedtime song. This can be a lullaby you sing, or a playlist or CD. Using the same music each night is another great signal that the time to sleep is nigh.
- A gentle massage or more stretching. Even very young babies can benefit from soothing massage. Use aromatherapy if you like; a lavender-scented oil or lotion can help facilitate relaxation.
- A conversation and/or prayer. This is a good time to debrief about what happened during the day and to remind your child what will happen tomorrow, particularly if it’s out of the ordinary. If your family is religious, you may choose to pray together at this time as well.
Keeping this routine the same, night after night, will help a child feel loved and secure. If you must make a change, introduce it gradually and be patient if the child backslides.
A Few Other Bedtime Concerns
If your child has a special stuffed animal or “lovey,” include it in the routine. The child may like to tuck it in and say goodnight, just as you do with them. This can help the child to communicate any fears or concerns, too; it might be easier for them to talk about Pink Bunny being scared of the dark than about their own fear.
Make sure the child’s bedroom is comfortable. It should be dark, although it’s fine to use a nightlight or leave the door ajar so light enters the room from the hallway. It should also be cool, with ample blankets to keep the child warm. If necessary, invest in a cooling mattress, AC, or fan. Using white noise to block out other noises can be helpful, too. A weighted blanket for kids is also a great addition to consider. It can help kids feel comforted and help them fall asleep faster.
Lastly, limit the number of times your child can get out of bed, ask for a glass of water, come “visit” you and your spouse in the living room, or engage in other such tactics to avoid sleep. If this happens frequently, it might be a sign that something is amiss. Talk to your child to determine what they’re feeling, and address the issue head-on.
Final Thoughts About Bedtime
Keeping things the same, night after night, so that the child feels safe and knows what’s coming, is an important element of the bedtime routine. So is your insistence on going to bed at the same time and staying in bed after that time. Give in to your child’s pleading or whining to stay up late or get out of bed for a midnight snack, and you are setting a dangerous precedent.
What does your child’s bedtime routine involve? Do you sing lullabies or tell bedtime stories? Any tricks or tips to share with your fellow parents? Leave a comment below!