All children take great comfort in predictability; it helps them make sense of their world and regulate their states of being. The bedtime routine is a wonderful opportunity to incorporate soothing rituals into our children’s daily lives, while improving sleep habits at the same time.
As adults, we have learned how to relax ourselves in preparation for sleep. We bathe, dim the lights, read in bed, beg our partner for a foot rub, listen to mellow music. Likewise, our children, including babies and school-age kids, benefit from calming, predictable rituals before going to bed. Activities should all be comforting and quiet. Save the wrestling, tickling, scary stories and tv shows, and anything else that’s potentially stimulating for another time of day.
Here are activities that work well as part of a bedtime routine. Pick 3 or 4 based on your child’s age and preferences.
· Put on pajamas
· Brush teeth
· Go to the bathroom
· Read books
· Bottle or nursing
· Swaddle or sleep sack
· Plenty of hugs and kisses
· Sing a (short) lullaby
· Tell a (short) story
· Share 3 things about your day
· Say good night to dollies or objects in room
· Listen to quiet music
· Small cup of water with books
· Prayers, blessings, or send love/kisses/wishes to others
Encourage buy-in. If your child is asserting his independence these days, empower him to participate actively in the routine. He can pick out his pajamas, choose the book, say goodnight to his special dolls, and turn off the light. But you set the time frame.
Anticipate your child’s reactions. If there is one part of the routine that your child resists (perhaps brushing his teeth or combing his hair), get that part over first, before he settles into his snuggly mode.
Think about timing. Your routine could be anywhere from 15 minutes (for a baby) to an hour, depending on your child’s age and temperament. Some need more time to switch gears than others. Keep an eye on the clock though – if your child’s natural bedtime is 7:30, remember to start the routine early enough so he has plenty of time to fall asleep by then.
Follow at naptime too. The naptime routine can be an abbreviated version of bedtime, 1-2 calming activities in your child’s room.
Let him get himself to sleep. Your routine should be relaxing, but not enough to put them to sleep. We want them doing that part themselves. So if your baby keeps conking out reading or nursing, move that activity up in the routine. If it still happens, try shifting your routine earlier.
(Some excerpts from The Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook ©2010 Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady ®)