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Is your little one having trouble settling down at night? Establishing a few bedtime routines can help.
Sleep — or lack of it — is probably the most-discussed part of child care. Children seem to never sleep but their sleep affects the well-being of everyone in the household.
There is a lot of research on sleep and the one consistent research finding is that having a consistent bedtime routine not only helps makes bedtime easier but also helps them fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and better (source).
The benefits of a good bedtime routine spill over into other aspects of your child’s life as well. Research shows that a consistent bedtime routine benefits parent-child attachment, language development, and emotion and behavioral regulation (source).
Here are some ways you can stop the bedtime battles — and start getting more sleep.
1. Make Your Bedtime Routine Consistent
A bedtime routine for kids should consist of the same steps every night or as many nights as possible (source).
Your bedtime routine may change over time, but it should be fairly consistent from day to day, but the most important thing is doing it consistently, starting it at the same time, and going in the same order.
Do the same 3-4 steps in the same order every night, for example, getting ready for bed (brush teeth, put on pajamas, etc), quiet play, bedtime story, and song.
By creating a consistent bedtime routine, your child will show less anxiety and resistance at bedtime even when other things in their life aren’t consistent. For example, when you go on vacation or when school begins.
2. Start the Bedtime Routine Early
If you can consistently get your kids down at the right time your bedtime battles will diminish greatly.
So, what is the right time?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) issued guidelines based on a review of the research (source).
Based on this chart, a 3-year-old who wakes up at 6.30 and no longer takes naps, needs to go to bed around 17.30-18.30.
Sleep is essential at all ages and is crucial for development. Children who get enough sleep have better attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotion regulation, and overall mental and physical health.
On the other hand, routinely not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, emotional and mental disorders, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and even depression.
Use the guide above to estimate what time your child may need to go to bed, it may be much earlier than you think.
If your child is having problems falling asleep, then they likely need more sleep. Try moving their bedtime up by 20 minutes for a week and see what happens.
3. Keep Your Child’s Bedtime Routine Short and Sweet
Kids often need help with transitions and moving from a busy day to a sleep state is a huge transition.
Encourage your child to relax 30-60 minutes before bedtime by doing activities that will help them relax.
This may be as easy as switching off the television, stopping tickling matches, and skipping anything with caffeine.
Ask your child if they want to take a warm bath, read stories, play quiet games, or sing some bedtime songs.
Your child’s bedtime routine should be short and sweet. A good bedtime routine will probably last about 10 to 15 minutes, or a little longer if you include a bath.
If your child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, your child might need a longer wind-down time before turning the lights out to go to sleep.
If your child struggles with transitioning from the activity they’re doing into their bedtime routine, you might benefit from using routine cards.
These Editable Routine Cards will help your child know all the steps in the routine and in which order to follow and will help you free yourself from power struggles, yelling, and nagging.
Simply print out these printable routine cards, cut, place them in the desired order, put where your child can best see, and follow the routine.
The cards are customizable so you can create any routine for your child.
4. Bedtime Stories
Including a bedtime story as part of your bedtime routine is not only about cognitive and brain development.
Quiet moments are something we need in our busy schedules and sharing a story is a great way to bond and create a special time for parents and kids to share something together.
Reading a bedtime story will also instill a love of reading in your child and give them a positive habit that can stick with them throughout life.
Let your child pick a couple of stories to read and cuddle up together in the same spot every night and read.
You can also skip the books and sing some lullabies instead. There is something soothing about lullabies for both the parent and the child so sing or hum a couple of songs and snuggle together.
The Bedtime Routine
There you have it — 4 tips for creating a bedtime routine for kids that works like a charm! Here is an example of what it might look like:
Start by brushing your teeth together. Put on pajamas and have your child choose 1-2 books. If they’re taking too long to choose books, you can give them two options to choose from. Lay down in bed together and read, turn off the lights, sing a lullaby if you want and kiss them goodnight.
All in all that comes to about 30 minutes. Do these same steps, at the same time every night and your child’s sleep will improve.
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