Bedtime Routines and Rituals Make for Good Sleep Habits in Children
When children have bedtime and sleep problems at ages three, four, and five, those problems can often be traced back to the development of poor sleep habits at younger ages.
For instance, Tracey, age 4, whined and complained about going to bed at night. She found excuses to try to stay up later, and when she ran out of excuses she would cry and leave her bedroom.
And Reid, age 3, had temper tantrums at bedtime and insisted one of his parents stay in his room and sleep beside him. If his mother or father tried to leave the room before Reid was sound asleep, he would cry and fuss until they lay back down beside him.
Many such sleep and bedtime problems can be avoided by establishing bedtime routines between six and 12 months of age. Children do much better at bedtime if they know what to expect at the end of each day. In other words, if you create a predictable sequence of events that you follow consistently every evening, your child will feel secure and will be ready to go to sleep by the end of the routine.
Once established during the second six months of life, the basics of your child’s bedtime routine will be established and although some aspects of it might change somewhat, the basics routine will stay the same.
A predictable sequence of events prior to your child going to sleep may involve some or all of the following:
- Washing or taking a bath
- Putting on pajamas
- Brushing teeth
- Having a story read
- A final goodnight kiss and hug
This routine should not be lengthy, but it should be consistently followed. However, no matter how you tweak this kind of bedtime ritual, it works best if it is preceded by about an hour of quiet time or winding down activity. Engaging in roughhousing with your child — wrestling, watching stimulating videos, or running around — are not conducive to what is needed for good sleep; and that is a peaceful and quiet transition period.
There are other helpful elements that can ease bedtime, but some that work well for many parents include:
- Specific bedtime. Children function best when there is a predictable routine. A good place to start is by setting a bedtime and not deviating from this time.
- Advance warnings. Your child may be far too young to tell time or know how long 15 minutes is. But by announcing that it is almost time for a bath or for putting on pajamas helps her to begin to associate certain events with the approaching bedtime. For example, saying “It’s almost seven o’clock and time for bed,” won’t be much help, but saying, “I’m going to start your bath” and then turning on the water in the bathtub will be a signal that she will learn to associate with getting ready to go to sleep.
- Snack. A light snack of foods that include protein and carbohydrates will tend to help induce sleep. Protein will keep his blood sugar level on an even keel until breakfast the next morning, while carbohydrates will make him sleepy.
- Warm bath. A warm bath will be relaxing and by raising your child’s body temperature slightly, she will be more likely to fall asleep easily.
- Story. Reading a story is also relaxing and comforting. Not only are you teaching your child about reading and language, but you are providing a comfortable experience that will, in time, be associated with sleep. As your child develops favorite stories and loved books, she will ask to be read the same ones over and over. By reading her favorite books, she will feel secure and be more relaxed and ready to go to sleep.
Finally, always make a final kiss and hug fairly brief. Prolonged goodbyes may signal your anxiety and may lead to your child crying or being anxious when you try to leave. Anxiety often results in crying – rather than a final goodnight and gentle sleep.