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How to Create an Effective Bedtime Routine

April 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 195

If you are a parent who wants to avoid a complicated bedtime routine, you are on the right track.By all means, avoid a complicated bedtime routine.But do have a regular, predictable routine that helps your child transition from play to sleep.Make it simple, short, and pretty much the same every night.It does not have to include a bath!Some kids can get wound up with all the giggling and splashing, some don't.If your child finds it relaxing, go ahead and have a bath with the bedtime routine, but it doesn't need to happen every night.Think about what works for your child and what doesn't, and set up your routine around that.It can change as your child grows, but changes should be fairly small.Here are some examples how the routine might change as your toddler gets to be an older child:

One year old

  1. brush teeth
  2. diaper and pajamas
  3. read two books or one long book
  4. turn out lights, rock or sit together and sing one or two short songs
  5. tuck into bed, rub and pat back for 30-60 seconds

Two years old

  1. brush teeth
  2. diaper and pajamas
  3. complete a simple jigsaw puzzle together or other quiet activity your child enjoys - and if she likes to stall for more time, be sure it is one with a definite ending (once the puzzle is together, it's time to go to step 4)
  4. read one book
  5. turn out lights, give child a short back rub or foot massage
  6. tuck into bed, sing one or two short songs

Three years old

  1. brush teeth, go potty
  2. put on pajamas
  3. read a book
  4. lights out, tuck into bed
  5. tell child a story in which she may or may not be the main character (it's not as hard as you think, give it at try!Kids don't expect much!).Or recall something fun, nice, or interesting from your day together to talk about.

Seven years old

  1. brush teeth, go potty
  2. put on pajamas
  3. read book together 10-20 minutes (don't stop reading aloud once she learns to read, it is still beneficial for her!)
  4. tuck child in bed, lights out
  5. parent stays a couple minutes, tell a story or have light discussion about the day (have some topics like "best and worst thing that happened today" to get the talk going)This quiet, uninterrupted time together may be a wonderful bonding time for a busy family.It also may give your child a chance to share some things that are more difficult for her to talk about.

Nine years old

  1. brush teeth, go potty
  2. change into pajamas
  3. child reads alone 15-20 minutes
  4. tuck child in bed, lights out
  5. parent stays several minutes, light discussion about the day

You may have noticed some common things in these routines:

1. They all start in the bathroom to avoid going back and forth from bedroom to bathroom, as this kind of traffic can be "exciting" and lead to more running and fooling around (especially if you have a couple kids).

2.They all involve a quiet activity before the lights go out.

3.They all involve the parent staying a bit after lights out.This helps the child make the transition from awake to asleep in two ways:the light tells our brains to stay up.When it goes out suddenly, we don't fall asleep immediately, so your child could use a little help getting into a more relaxed state.The other way staying in the room with your child after lights out helps her transition to sleep is that she won't feel like she's been abandoned in the dark.The room has a very different feel once the lights go out.A child may be afraid of the dark.Or a child who enjoys all sights and sounds of a well-lit room may feel rather alone when there is suddenly little to see or do.It is a big change when the lights go out!Night lights are very helpful, but your presence, extended a few moments past lights out, helps ease your child into a sleepy state.

One routine involved a puzzle, because a child may be calmed by puzzles.If you can get your child to do quiet, calm activities during the last half hour before bedtime, that will help - but if it didn't happen or didn't work, building it in to the bedtime routine itself can help a lot.It is a nice alternative or addition to reading a book together.Older kids might also like to read alone 15 minutes before turning off the light.Some routines include a massage or back patting, you could try them see if they work or not.A massage makes some kids giggle, but back patting and rubbing might be very soothing.The bath is negotiable depending on how much time you have, how your child reacts to a bath, and how dirty your child happens to be on any given night!If you sometimes do a bath and sometimes don't, just keep the rest of the routine in sequence.Having a routine is good, but you don't need to be too rigid.You probably wouldn't want to adopt someone else's routine, but experiment and find what works for your child.You can always revise your routine as needed, especially as your child grows.The important thing is that your routine is generally the same each night.For a good test, try describing the bedtime routine to a babysitter.If it takes a long time to describe, or if you have lots of possible scenarios involving "if this, then do that" you will know your routine needs more consistency.If your child can tell the bedtime routine to the babysitter himself (accurately), then you know you have established a simple, regular routine.

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

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