For many parents, the nightly bedtime routine can feel like a big challenge that you need to tackle successfully every night. It’s tiring, to say the least, to try to get your child or children to bed at the right time and keep them there. It’s hard work a lot of the time, and it can cause big arguments and meltdowns. However, establishing a good bedtime routine is absolutely necessary, and it’s one of the best things you can do for your child (and for yourself).
When children are sleep deprived, they can have difficulty controlling their emotions. It can make them extra energetic and hyperactive, or it can cause them to be irritable and argumentative. Children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have behavioral issues, and they may find it hard to pay attention during the day either at school or home. It can lead them to become frustrated and lash out, or to be diagnosed with ADHD, for example. Lack of sleep can even cause children to become overweight.
As for parents, having at least a little time to themselves each evening is important so that they can recharge and relax, perhaps get some adult conversation, watch their own choice of TV program, sit and read undisturbed, and even eat a meal without interruptions. All of these things make parenting that much easier come the morning and, if everyone has had enough sleep and time to reset for the day ahead, the household will be much less fraught.
A good bedtime routine will set and maintain excellent sleeping habits, ensure everyone gets enough rest, and help your child to fall asleep (and stay asleep) without problems. Although there are no rules for this routine because every family is different, there are some things that, if you can include in your own routine, will make life easier. Here are some of them.
Have Your Own Bedtime
If children see their parents doing something, then they are more likely to do it themselves. This kind of learning can be essential and is particularly useful when it comes to a bedtime routine. Let your children know what time you will be coming to bed and what time you wake up in the morning. Ideally, they should be going to bed before you and getting up again after you, and it might be a good idea to make these times on a wall clock so that they know, even from a young age, how to tell whether you will be awake or not.
Try your hardest to stick to these routines because your child will be able to see that a set bedtime (and waking up time) is a grown-up thing to do and if there is one thing that a child wants; it’s to be seen as grown up.
Deal With The Reasons
If your child is having real problems getting off to sleep at night, you will need to look into the reasons why and come up with solutions for them if possible. For some, a reluctance to go to sleep might be because they are worried about missing out on something exciting, for example. They know that their parents are still awake and are moving about the house and they think they should be included. It can mean they don’t sleep well or they keep getting up to see what you are doing. If this is the case, you need to reassure them that you aren’t doing anything exciting that they need to worry about. Let them know that you would come and get them if they were needed. Doing this can soothe them into sleep.
It could also be that they are uncomfortable. If your child’s mattress is old or it was bought cheaply then replacing it can have a big effect and make a huge impact on good sleeping patterns. The same is true for pillows and bedspreads. Or it could be a skin irritation that is causing the issue; check your laundry detergent or other allergens, and if need be, you can look online at Health Pricer for Neosalus cream (or similar).
The room might be too hot or too cold, your child’s nightclothes may not fit properly, there could be a chink of light coming through the drapes or not enough light because your little one needs a nightlight to get to sleep… Working out what the problem is and then fixing the problem is a good way to get that bedtime routine back on track.
If you live with a spouse or partner, it’s essential to discuss the strategy for getting your child to bed, and to sleep, with them. You need to work as a team, in fact, the entire household does. Otherwise, if there is no consistency or if one partner allows the child to stay up and the other insists on an earlier bedtime, then the child themselves will be confused and won’t be expected to understand what is required of them.
Discuss the sleep routine together and agree on the plan before implementing it. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them and what will happen if the routine has to be changed because life sometimes happens.
Tell The Child
When you have come up with a routine that you are sure will work, you will need to let your child know what it is. If you simply tell them one day that it is bedtime and this is entirely different to how it has been before, they will resist, and they may be anxious about going to bed. For young children, use a picture book that has images of a child brushing their teeth, getting undressed for bed, and going to sleep after a story. For older children, you can write the routine down and talk it through with them before it begins.
Routine Is Good
Sticking to the same bedtime routine every night is the best idea. Not only does it form a habit and make things easier because sleep cycles and expectations will all fall in line together, but it will also help to keep your child feeling safe and secure. Children love routine, and once they have understood and accepted it, they will want to follow it. If your child has been following a routine for a while now and suddenly starts to change and fight against it, there may be an underlying problem. If you can’t find out what it is, consulting a medical professional or your child’s teacher may help you.
Not everyone is comfortable giving their child a snack right before bedtime but it can help and if it needs to be part of your bedtime routine don’t be afraid to use it. Some children simply need more food than others, especially if they are particularly active or have had a busy day. A light, healthy snack such as fruit, wholegrain cereal with milk or crackers can be perfect. Try to avoid large, heavy meals right before bedtime as this can lead to problems sleeping.
The Sleeping Environment
There are some ways to prepare your child’s sleeping environment that will make sleep much easier to come by. Of course, this will depend on your child’s preferences too, but ideally, you will want them to have a dark room that isn’t going to be disturbed by noise from elsewhere in the house. Leaving the door open and the hallway light on can help, and you will still be able to have your child’s room in almost complete darkness. If the sound levels are going to be a problem with the door open, a nightlight can help too. Experiment with what works best and gives your little one the most comfortable night’s sleep and what allows them to get to sleep more quickly and stick with that.
Can I Just…?
Many children get into the habit of getting up once they are in bed, or yelling out for their parents to come up to them. They will ask for a drink of water, a snack, a bedtime story, for the bedclothes to be adjusted, for the blinds to be pulled all the way or anything else that comes to mind. Some do this to see you once more before they go to sleep; others because they like to have some control over their environment.
If it’s the former, make sure that you let them know you are going to come up and check on them shortly and that if they need anything, they should wait until you come back – unless it’s a real emergency, of course! If it’s the latter, then you need to ensure that all the things they usually ask for are included as part of the bedtime routine and that they feel in control of it. You could ask them to pull the drapes or blinds, for example, or check with them that their bedclothes are comfortable. Keep them involved, and the routine will go much more smoothly.