Now that summer is winding down and we head back into the school year, we’d like to offer a little help to those of you who might be struggling to get back into a regular sleep routine with your little ones. We speak with Erin Junker, a professional infant and toddler sleep consultant, for expert advice on how to make this transition a smooth one.
The Best Bedtime Routine for Children And Why It’s So Important
For adults and children alike, bedtime is a time for the brain to process the day’s many thoughts. This can make it difficult to drift off to sleep, particularly if there has been no wind-down process in advance to signal that the day is ending and the time for sleep is coming up. Remember: young children thrive on predictability and consistency, and do not generally enjoy surprises in their scheduling – they like to know what’s coming up next.
By implementing a great bedtime routine for children, we are not only helping their bodies and brains prepare for sleep, but are also building in a daily opportunity to nurture the parent-child relationship. It’s a time to reflect on the day, snuggle, read, and discuss some of the important things on your child’s mind.
Steps to a Great Bedtime Routine
A bath is a fantastic sleep cue for a child. It is very different than anything else that happens into the day, and so it signals that a change is coming up (i.e. the big, long sleep!). A bath is also a great time to connect with your child – sit by the tub and interact with your child as they play; chat about the day and think about bath-time less as a chore and more as an extension of your family-time. For parents worried about daily baths causing dry skin, you can add a few drops of oil like Substance Herbal Hug Baby Oil, or the simple act of splashing around in the water for a few minutes each night is a great sleep cue for your child. When you are using bath products, ensure they are all-natural and sulphate-free for a gentle bath-time ritual. Substance Baby Body Foam is gentle and great for sensitive skin.
Brush Teeth and Hop into PJs
These steps of your child’s bedtime routine offer even more than just great dental hygiene and comfy sleepwear. These steps offer a chance to give your child choices. Toddlers need to have some sense of control over their lives. Finding common ground and negotiating with your little one does not mean “giving in”; rather, this means working together to find mutually agreed-upon choices throughout each day. Ideas on where to give your toddler control at bedtime are: pyjamas (give them two choices and let them choose one); teeth-brushing (before the bath or after the bath?); toothbrush (princess brush or superhero?).
Reading is an excellent time to snuggle, bond, and instill lessons. I recommend parents read two books each night with their young child before bed. Why two? This is where boundaries come into play. Many parents will fall into the trap of “Just one more book… pleeeeease, just one more?!”, at which point bedtime often becomes a two-hour process, and your child is overtired and past the point of being able to easily fall asleep. Set limits, follow through on these limits, and you will find that bedtime is a much smoother process – with limited protest and stalling – when little ones know what to expect, they are less likely to continually push buttons, test boundaries, and stall at bedtime.
Tuck your child in with a kiss and a hug, ensure they have everything they need to feel safe and cozy (a small nightlight? A beloved stuffy?) and then allow them to drift into a night of healthy sleep. Of course, children will often save up their most important questions and insights for bedtime – don’t dismiss your child’s thoughts, but do calmly set some limits and carry on. I suggest that parents and children have a chance at the end of the bedtime routine to ask about “One thing that made you feel sad today” and “One thing that made you feel happy today” (for both the parent and the child!) – this not only allows a couple of final, big ideas to be released and ensures your child knows his thoughts are important to you, but also puts a limit on bedtime stalling and ensures your kiddo can get on with the important task of gaining healthy rest.
Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company. She works closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need.