Creating a routine for your little one is key in establishing the time needed to decompress before sleep. There are some families that establish a bedtime routine right from the beginning or soon after baby arrives while others may wait a little longer. When we talk about routines we aren’t talking about a schedule. Those are two very different things. The schedule is your day to day with timing of naps and bedtimes as well as activities and meals. The routine is the 5-20 minutes you spend with your baby or child just before going to sleep. Babies and children thrive on routine. It allows them to prepare for upcoming parts of the day, as well as cue them for what’s coming next. The routine doesn’t have to be rigid but being consistent will help.
Why Routines Are Important
Infants and children need routines and predictability for their emotional well being and for their sense of order and security. They also need routines to keep their internal clocks correctly wound, and to cue their brains to secrete melatonin. Routines are an essential part in the calming process as well. A short, consistent routine before nap and bed will cue your child, help calm them and eventually start to induce sleep.
A great time to start implementing a healthy routine would be when your child is 8-12 weeks of age; however, it is never too late to start a good nap and bedtime routine!
The Bedtime Routine
The bedtime routine is a perfect opportunity to connect with your child. When one or both parents are working, taking some time in the routine to sit and chat will ensure the child is receiving much needed one on one time with their parent(s). For the child that is experiencing a life changing event such as a new sibling, starting school, loss of a loved one or going through a developmental leap, allowing for that time will be beneficial for not only their sleep but their emotional connections as well.
Before heading to the bedroom to begin your routine, it is important to allow for some decompression time so that they are not going from being highly stimulated straight into bed. Make small adjustments before starting the bedtime routine such as; turning off the TV, playing quiet games, dimming lights etc. This can help your child decompress and prepare for bed. You will want to avoid a routine becoming too long as it can cause some anxiety within the child, it can lead to a missed sleep window, and it leaves a lot more opportunity for stalling. A good length of time for a routine is between 20-30 minutes.
An example of a great routine would look something like this:
- Bath (not necessary as not everyone can manage a bath every night)
- Brushing teeth
- Cream and massage
- Pajamas on
- Reading Books
- Bottle or Breastfeed (if appropriate)
- Snuggle or chat time
The last five minutes before bed should remain consistent, as this is the most important piece of the routine. Those last few minutes is the one on one time they get before bed and could look similar to this:
- Close the door
- Turn on the sound machine
- Close the curtains
- Stand in front of the crib
- Snuggle with your child on your shoulder
- Sing/hum a song
- Deep pressure hug
- Into bed
For a toddler or a child who is sleeping in a bed, the snuggle/chat can be in the bed together or in a chair. Then climb into bed, deep pressure hug, kiss and goodnight. If you nurse or rock your child to sleep, this would be the perfect time to do so.
A Nap time routine is just as important!
We often see that many families have already established some sort of bedtime routine but don’t realize the importance of the nap time routine too. This one will be significantly shorter and can include a quick story if you want, but you will want the 3-5 minutes prior to your child being put into bed, to be the same as the 3-5 final minutes of the bedtime routine. Close the door, turn on the sound machine, close the curtains, sing/hum your song, give them a deep pressure hug, a kiss and into bed. It can be as simple as that along as it is consistent from day to day and from person to person. The nap routine should last no longer than 10-15 minutes.
Got a stalling toddler?
One of the most difficult challenges at bedtime is when toddlers and preschoolers master the skill of stalling! It’s their way of spending those few extra minutes with you each time they call you back into the room. It can be very challenging for parents as it can be difficult to ignore their child’s pleas for just one more sip of water, hug, snuggle or kiss.
A great way to ensure all of your child’s needs are met while still being consistent is to incorporate all of the extras into the routine before lights out so that you have no doubt in your mind that their needs have been met before you leave their room. Be mindful that you will want to set limits so that you are not tempted to keep going back in, which would reinforce the behavior.
An example of this would be: Take them to the bathroom before bed, let them have a small glass of water while brushing their teeth as a part of their routine and again just before you tuck them in so that when they ask for it again, you are confident that they have received what they need and you can comfortably say no. It will be much easier saying no for another sip of water when you know that they have already had 3 throughout the routine.
* It is acceptable for toilet-trained children to go to the bathroom 1x after lights out if you feel they truly need to go.
We’ve put together a few more extra tips to help you through the toddler bedtime
Create a routine chart
Take pictures of your child doing each step of their routine and create a chart for them to check off each night as they prepare for bed. This will give them a sense of control, order and help them feel more secure in the overall routine.
Let them chat
If they can stay focused while going through the steps of the routine and chat at the same time, great. If not, getting through the routine and then allowing for a few minutes to lie quietly and chat your ear off is another tip to help reduce their need for stalling. Sometimes the extra few minutes of connection can go a long way.
Take pictures of them while they sleep
Children are fascinated with seeing themselves sleep! If you have a child that is anxious at bedtime or through the night or needs reassurance that you will check on them, take their picture. Show them the next morning and in the following days all the different positions they slept in and how peaceful, sweet, funny and comfortable they looked. This will build their confidence knowing that even when they are sleeping, you are still checking on them.
The importance of a routine will not only help your child relax enough to fall asleep easily but it will also allow you to confidently walk into your child’s room with an established routine knowing that within a few minutes your child will be settled for bed, which means you now have some time for yourself! Enjoy!