There is no way to ever be fully prepared for the changes in your sleep once you have children! From night feedings and night terrors, to toddlers that don’t want to sleep in their beds, to children that can’t settle down on their own, bedtime and nighttime can be one of the hardest times for parents.
While there are many books and various approaches out there aimed at guiding you through sleep training and nighttime issues, one thing that they can all agree on is that a good bedtime routine is key to a good night—or at least a decent one!
Bedtime routines can also be a special time together. The day has ended and it is time to give your children the security they need to settle down at night. Giving them that undivided attention is just what they need to feel grounded and secure.
While each family’s bedtime routine may look a little different, below is a general guideline to assist you in establishing your own bedtime routine for your child.
Find the time that works for you to start your routine. This is key because all children and families are different. Some families prefer very early bedtimes (6:00 – 7:00 pm) while other families have parents who may work later and want to get some quality family time before bed, so later bedtimes (8:00 -9:00 pm) generally work better for them. Once you know what your bedtime is, you’ll need to start the routine around an hour or so before.
Have children pick up. Have clutter and toys picked up so the environment is restful and calm. Too much clutter and mess can actually become overwhelming for many.
Begin with baths. Bath time is a great way to get younger children settled down. Add some Epsom Salts mixed with lavender essential oils to create a calming, peaceful bath. Or look for herbal baths that may help with calmness or sleep. Bath time is a great time for one-on-one connecting time with children and a great time to discuss the day.
Baby massage. Whether they are a baby or not, massages with lotions and/or essential oils are great because they are calming and relaxing. Most children clearly benefit from a parent’s loving touch and this is an excellent time to strengthen bonding. Add essential oils to your lotions to help set the mood for sleep. (This is the lavender essential oil that we use at home and Debbie insists it smells better than all the rest.)
Fit in some cuddle time. Whether your toddlers are a bit older and you want to calm down with one episode of a favorite TV show, or you want to sit and just talk and sing songs, children will enjoy the cuddles before bed. For some children screen time can be quite stimulating, so keep that in mind.
Read or tell a story. Reading or telling bedtime stories is a rite of passage for both parent and child. It does everything from making your child laugh to teaching them an important life lesson. (An added benefit for me was that I finally became better at reading out loud, something that I was never comfortable with or good at for most of my life.) Try to stay present and mindful; it’s amazing how you can get to the end of the story only to realize that you didn’t listen to one word that you read! Telling your own stories can be fun as well and is great for small imaginations and growing minds.
Tuck them in. Take the moments to tuck them in and maybe lay down for just a few minutes. It is key to try and not create habits you don’t wish to keep – such as falling asleep with your little ones. Keep things simple enough so that no hard habits or elaborate routines are formed.
Monitor media. Other things to remember when establishing bedtime routines are to consider what is viewed and discussed before bed. Don’t watch anything or discuss anything that may remotely scare young children. Even monitor episodes of their favorite shows that are normally harmless, making sure they aren’t going to trigger anything. If it is an episode or story about the dark, monsters under the bed, being scared of the dark, or anything of that sort — turn it off immediately. While some things may not seem like an obvious trigger, they may occasionally develop in to fears that were not there before.
Consider your child’s eating habits. Is your one year old having trouble sleeping through the night? Could she possibly be waking up hungry because she eats dinner at 6:00 pm but doesn’t go to sleep until 8:30 pm? Try a small jar of baby food or some yogurt before bed to help fill little tummies; keep it simple and healthy.
There is no magic solution or answer to a good night of sleep. Each person and each family is unique and will develop their own routine.
The goal is to have some kind of routine because research shows that children thrive from having daily routines and knowing what to expect. Consider additional things like night lights, cozy pajamas, thermostat settings and white noise to make your children as comfortable as possible.
If you enjoy the end of the day with your children, hopefully you will all get a good night of rest.