Bedtime Routines: Getting Kids to Bed Without the Stress

What is bedtime like in your house? Does your child go to bed calmly and agreeably? Or is every night a prolonged battle of the wills?

Kids come up with endlessly inventive reasons why they shouldn't go to bed. Some turn on the charm; others turn on the tears. Either way, how do you put an end to your little procrastinator's delaying tactics?

According to experts, the best way to break the cycle is to create a reassuring nightly routine. When it comes to getting kids to go to sleep willingly, nothing is more powerful than simple bedtime rituals.

The Value of Ritual

Children love rituals and routines. They thrive on the consistency and security that comes from knowing what to expect. In addition, having family rituals gives kids a sense of identity and belonging.

Bedtime routines also serve a practical purpose: they calm busy little minds and bodies, so kids can let go of the day's events and gradually surrender to sleep.

Many children experience separation anxiety at night. Between school, work, and other activities, a child may not feel like she's getting enough of mom or dad's attention. When parents participate in their children's bedtime rituals, kids can look forward to some nightly one-on-one time.

How to Establish a Sequence of Bedtime Rituals

Chances are, you probably already have some bedtime routines in place. That already gives you something to build on. Here's how:

  • First, identify a specific bedtime-and stick to it. If you repeatedly make exceptions, the importance of bedtime loses its meaning. Bend the rules only very rarely and on special occasions.
  • According to experts, bedtime rituals should last from 15-30 minutes. Count regular hygiene activities (brushing teeth, putting on pajamas) as part of the sequence.
  • Make sure your child follows the sequence every night, or it will lose its power. Kids love knowing and following a routine. Some even enjoy posting their schedule on the wall.
  • Incorporate story time into your rituals. Just make sure the plots aren't too exciting or scary-the goal is to relax, not stimulate. This is precious bonding time (and educational, too!).
  • A pre-bedtime bath can be very beneficial. Warm bath water relaxes the body, while quiet bath play can calm restless minds.
  • If your child has trouble falling asleep, you might try using relaxation or breathing exercises. Many children respond well to step-by-step techniques: "relax your toes, now your feet, now your legs".
  • Soothe your child's senses with aromatherapy, a gentle sound machine, or a calming light show.
  • Build in some time for quiet conversation. Focus on happy topics, such as an upcoming outing or fanciful ideas ("when I grow up"). This is not the time to talk about tomorrow's test or a vexing problem.
  • Give your child an action plan for after you leave the room. You can suggest she plan to hug a beloved stuffed animal or sing a favorite song in her head.
  • Plan how you'll respond if your child keeps popping out of bed. Your child's goal is to prolong any interaction as long as possible. Your goal is to limit it. Be kind but firm, and get your child right back into bed.
  • Create a bedtime phrase that you use every night to signal lights out has truly arrived. It could be as simple as "Sweet dreams, I love you!"

Make your child's bedtime ritual relaxing and enjoyable, and you can kiss bedtime battles goodbye. There's another bonus, too: according to experts; going to bed at the same time every night trains the body to get tired at that time. So the more you practice your child's bedtime ritual, the easier it will become!

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