As many parents have learned through experience, babies and children thrive on routine. They feel secure and safe when they know what to expect, and you can foster this in their daily routines. It’s so easy to forget that life on earth is a new experience for your child. Imagine the feeling you would experience when travelling in a different country in which its population spoke in an unfamiliar tongue. Once you start to establish some familiar places and people in this different place, you start to feel more at home. By building a routine around certain repetitive activities, your child starts to feel at home in this new human experience.
In addition to helping our children understand this new world, a bedtime routine sends your child’s brain a distinct reminder that it will be time to sleep soon. This CUES your child into a “sleepy zone”! How amazing is that? By simply giving your child the gift of consistency, you are also giving yourself an opportunity to nap, read, clean, decompress, or any of the other million things you have on your plate.
So what should I include in a bedtime routine for my child, you ask? When easing little minds into slumberland, we want to give their brains some time to slow down. Many adults would struggle to fall asleep immediately after a very physical workout, and this is the same for children. (1)
Many parents like to start with a bath as this can be a fun first bedtime cue. If your child has sensitive or dry skin, make this an optional part of the bedtime routine. After the bath, a short massage can be a great bonding moment as well as a loving transition into dressing in pj’s. Brushing teeth is another important part of the nightly routine. If your child hates this part, make it a game in which you help them to brush all of the bugs out of their teeth! Take them shopping to pick their own toothbrush. If they are too young to understand that, tickle their hand with the toothbrush before you make contact with a tooth. Get the giggles going and this will soon become a sought after part of bedtime.
Now comes the best part; the part where we get snuggles from our busy, busy little ones. Hold them close while you read stories in a cozy chair. If they are old enough, let them choose the first story. A great way to signal that sleeptime is coming is to always read the same last story. While you cuddle them, have them cuddle a lovey. By treating their lovey as a member of the family, you are helping them to foster an attachment to a transitional object. This can be helpful for middle of the night wakeups. (2)
Once you have finished your last story, this is a good time to have older children help with part of the bedtime routine by turning on their white noise machine or by turning their light off. Of course, steal a good, tight snuggle before you lay them to sleep with their lovey.
The entire routine should ideally be completed in the bedroom, aside from the obvious bathroom bits. This helps them to understand that their bedroom is a place for sleep, and it also keeps them away from the excitement of the rest of the house.
What does your bedtime routine look like? Which part of your bedtime routine cues your child into sleep? If you need assistance with the next step: helping your child fall asleep, I would be happy to help!