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Getting Your Kids to Bed – Setting a Good Sleep Routine

Katya Bowd

Posted on June 26 2017

Sleep is the most impacted part of life when it comes to the arrival of children. Sure, the diapers are numerous, and the baby gear collection taking over the house is a wonder to behold. But it’s the sleep schedule that new parents talk about the most. No two children are alike in their untamed sleeping routines. Honestly, the best parenting advice available for making a solid sleep schedule happen is to simply adjust your own sleep schedule to sync with whatever your child is doing. This isn’t always feasible, especially if both parents have jobs outside the home. But if you can swing it, it’s definitely effective.

Why is sleeping through the night such a challenge? If it were a one-time deal getting a routine set, that wouldn’t be so bad. But milestones come up every few months for the first few years of a child’s life (think teething, walking, toilet training, kindergarten, etc.), and they often impact his or her sleep. That makes the process of actually creating a routine difficult because adjustments are necessary on a pretty consistent basis.

Is Mum planning to go back to work? Get ready for an adjustment. Did grandparents come to visit? The rhythm will, again, be somewhat disrupted. Going on a vacation? Coming back from a vacation? Expecting another child? The list of possible bumps in the road to finally sleeping through the night is literally endless.

That being said, there are steps that can be taken to make the road a little less “bumpy.” The more parents can make the same scenario happen every night regardless of what else is happening, the better the odds of creating and keeping a rhythm for your child’s sleeping patterns. Establish this rhythm with the following parenting tips for a nightly routine that promotes sound sleeping!

Allow plenty of time for winding down.

If one parent is away from home for most of the day, this also means it is necessary to allow time for playing together first. Even more so if both parents work outside the home. Sometimes grown-ups underestimate the need children have not just for quality time, but generous quantities of it. A long day without seeing the most important people in their lives will produce a hunger for positive attention. If this is left unsatisfied, your children will exert efforts for ANY attention – including the negative kind – as the evening progresses toward bedtime.

Play with your kids, let Dad get them wound up – it’s ok. Honestly, it sets the stage for properly winding down by letting them get the need for parental attention (and any pent-up energy) out of their system first.

Create a consistent set of cues that your child will begin to anticipate each night.

Encourage the play time, then promote the relaxation. Don’t be afraid to be firm if you are trying to implement a new night time routine. It may meet resistance initially. But in the long run, your kids will depend on it for a sense of “normality,” especially during times of adjustment.

Ask your kids to pick out several books for you to read before bed. Some helpful advice for parents who have a hard time getting their kids to clean up before bed is to have them select their stories, and let them know how excited you are to read to them after their rooms are picked up. Make it a race! Only have one child? Set the timer and “race the clock.” Kids love having a challenge, especially if Mum is involved in the challenge too! Doing the same sort of jobs you want them to do so is an awesome parenting tip for when you are trying to establish new household habits. Your kids don’t feel like they being singled out because it’s a group effort! Not in the habit of cleaning up before bed? A tidy environment is less likely to excite the imagination with shadows that look scary when the lights go out. Make it a fun part of the routine and score fewer night time wakings from being scared of the dark!

If they learn to expect time reading together after the jobs are done, there will be fewer battles over those jobs. Additionally, this ritual can be an anchor when changes come, because your child can (and should) expect it to continue regardless of what is happening. New baby, new house, and first time to school – no change is big enough that your chosen nightly routine can’t continue. The cue will associate a pleasant feeling with going to bed – a familiarity and a sense that all is right with the world.

Foster their sense of security.

Don’t take the time you spend tucking in your child for granted. This is when some of the most important developments happen in the relationship you have with your child. They can be the most candid, insightful conversations. Children are often ready to digest big ideas right before bed. Don’t miss the opportunity to help them mould their minds with bedtime chats in the early years! They help to create a transparency that will become very important in the later years.

The effect this can have on their sleep is that they can have a sense of “starting fresh” tomorrow. The concept of a brain dump is very prevalent in business circles for people who are trying to optimize their productivity. Understandably so – it’s a critical skill that prevents wasting precious energy when we are trying to make sense of anything that is taking up too much bandwidth. Your child can begin to learn the importance and the execution of this skill during night time talks with mum and dad.

It will all be silly stuff initially, but it’s silly stuff that’s important to them. Taking your children seriously and listening actively (even to something you have heard a million times) are important parenting skills. Provide validation and promote relaxation by helping them make sense of whatever is on their mind. Once you have them tucked in, allow them to express concerns, digest the day, and plan for tomorrow by taking time to snuggle and talk together.

Teach them calming techniques for when they feel restless or anxious.

There are so many effective practices for helping our bodies let go of anxieties and prepare for sleep. Those milestones that come in waves throughout infancy and toddlerhood impact more than just how your child sleeps. If you are noticing an increase in temper tantrums through the day, it’s likely that another milestone is approaching.

Help them cope with adjustments in their world or in their development by teaching them relaxation techniques. Your kids will love the novelty of a new activity becoming part of the routine. You can practice whatever techniques you love as a pre-bedtime relaxation routine. Just incorporate them into your parenting style by including your child in the activity. Or try something new with your child! Pick up yoga, reading, meditation, prayer, etc.

Again, once they have the tools for doing relaxation techniques on their own, it doesn’t matter what new situation may be causing them stress or discomfort. They are equipped to take matters into their own hands and bring on a feeling of calm to help them get ready for sleep.

So, let’s recap. For a successful bedtime routine, whatever little details you add or take away, remember:

  • Don’t rush the winding down process.
  • Create cues that prompt your kids to anticipate bedtime rather than rebelling against it.
  • Get cosy and listen to what’s on your child’s mind.
  • Coach your child on how to relax when they feel uneasy.

With these fundamentals in place, rounding out your routine is just a matter of paying attention to the tastes and interests of your children so you know what to add or take away. If they prefer to do a family game instead of reading, great. If you have a budding artist who would rather colour than do yoga, no problem (colouring is very trendy as a form of therapy right now).

With some trial and error, and lots of adjustments, you’ll soon find you have successfully navigated the more difficult years of infancy and toddlerhood, eventually settling your pre-schooler or kindergartner into a rhythm and routine that they love.

What have you tried for rebooting a bedtime routine? Share with us in the comments!

Until next time!