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Benefits of a Bedtime Routine for Toddlers and Young Children

April 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 161

Why does my child need a bedtime routine?

An important factor in helping your child fall asleep with ease is establishing a bedtime routine. If you just thought to yourself "there is no bedtime routine," you are not alone. Some adults dislike rigid routines, and want their child to be able to just go with the flow. This may work for some families, but it's more likely that this scenario works for a while... and when it stops working, the whole family is in a bad habit and they don't know how to fix it. Children who used to fall asleep in the car, in the stroller, and in the spare room at a friend's house, simply won't do it anymore. Instead of easy, bedtime often becomes a huge struggle, with kids not getting to bed easily or on time. Learning to go to sleep is an important life skill, one that you must teach a child.

A bedtime routine helps a child transition from active to sleepy

A bedtime routine is not welcomed by some parents, because they don't want to have to jump through a series of hoops before the child will go to bed. "If I say go to bed, he should just go to bed!" It isn't always a matter of behavior, however. Going from wide awake to sound asleep is huge transition, and children need some help learning to go to sleep. A baby can't help it - she is constantly nodding off in the car, the stroller, her swing. A toddler has mobility, stamina, and wants to be independent, so she needs your help learning how to fall sleep. A bedtime routine does not make a parent's life more complicated: it simplifies this process. With little thought or effort, you can bring your child's activity level down, spend quiet time with him, and rock or pat him into a sleepy state. You want him to be sleepy, not asleep, when you put him in bed.

Maybe you know someone (such as your other child, or the neighbor's kid) who just lies right down and goes to sleep with no nighttime routine. Maybe some kids do just go with the flow. Maybe these easygoing kids also jump up from playing on the playground when the parents call them to leave with no arguing, can join into all kinds of new activities without hesitation, and can quickly clean up toys when told "play time is over." Perhaps these kids slide from one mood and activity to the next with no trouble at all. In other words, these children "transition" easily from one thing to the next. They may even transition easily from awake to asleep, but there is probably some type of simple routine in place whether the lucky parents admit it or not. It is probably so brief, so simple, and so effective that the parents don't even realize there is a routine. That is the best kind of sleep routine to have, and worth the effort to accomplish!

A bedtime routine is a must if you have a babysitter

Do you ever want this sitter to come back? Odds are if she has to chase your child around the house and back into his room several times, she'll find something else to do on future Saturday nights. Lengthy explanations (and apologies) regarding how a sitter should try to accomplish what you cannot do - which is get your child to go to sleep - are no way to set the tone for a pleasant evening for you child and sitter. If you can't keep your child in bed, how is a sitter supposed to do it?

A word about lying down with your child to help him fall asleep

Infants often drift off to sleep during a feeding. It is a sweet and peaceful end to the day. It becomes a bad habit, however, and is very difficult to break. He will cry for you if he wakes up and you are not there. You don't want your physical presence to be part of the go to sleep/stay asleep routine. Do you want to have to lay down for half an hour or more every night when it's time to put your toddler to bed? And every time he wakes during the night until he falls asleep again? Everyone wakes multiple times during the night - but adults are usually so good at going right back to sleep, they don't even remember the brief moments they were awake. This is what children need to learn to do - go to sleep on their own, so they can put themselves right back to sleep during the night. If they need you to fall asleep at bedtime, they will need you at 2 a.m. as well. So if your baby is still a baby, try to keep her awake until you've put her in bed. If she drifts off during feedings, make a habit of changing her diaper before you put her to bed. It should wake her up enough that she is only sleepy when she is put down, not out cold. Don't feel guilty if she cries - if she doesn't learn good sleep habits, soon you may both be crying!

Regular routines for sleep help a child feel more secure

A bedtime routine gives the child the structure she needs to feel secure. It shows her that there is some order to her world. Once the bedtime routine begins, the child knows what to expect. Changing for bed, brushing teeth, and having a story together each night is like a rock in sea of constant change. Think of her life, everything is new! Just as adults feel stressed with unknowns such as a new job, a toddler with no predictable routine feels the same kind of stress, because she doesn't know what is going to happen next. Am I going to bed after supper, or to the grocery store? Will I fall asleep on the couch in front of the tv, or do I have to go in my bed? Usually, toddlers don't have the kind of vocabulary to ask these kinds of questions, or think ahead that far. They respond "in the moment" because they live in the moment. You may not understand where the frustration and tears are coming from, and they don't have the words to tell you. Even if your child can talk, expressing emotions verbally is pretty far beyond him at this point in his young life. By caring for your child in a predictable pattern, he will feel a sense of relief. He will know that his needs will be met. Your actions speak louder than words, and a routine tells a child "You are safe. I will take care of you."

Bedtime routines comfort children, as they are a predictable part of their day. They are essential for teaching children to settle themselves down and get to sleep, an important life skill.

Sue Hubbard, MS Ed., works with children with special needs (birth through age five). She works as a Special Instructor/ Family Trainer at

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