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Introducing a bedtime routine: 3 months +

Bedtime battles can be reduced by introducing a routine to ease your child to sleep. Children like predictability and having a sense of knowing what is happening next. A routine that eases them toward sleep can reduce the shock that it is time for bed, and hence assist them accept it more readily.

In the absence of a routine, your child may be happily playing an exciting energetic game, then suddenly she is picked up and told its bedtime. In this scenario, she is much likelier to make a fuss.

By introducing a pleasant routine 20-30 minutes before you put your child in bed you can help her transition to quiet mode and be ready for sleep.

Choosing the right bedtime routine for your family

A bedtime routine can include a number of activities. Usually it involves hygiene tasks (bath, brushing teeth), as well as quiet activities (read a story, talk about the day and cuddles). It is important that the activities you choose to incorporate are performed in the same order every night so your child knows what comes next and is prepared when sleep time comes.

An example could be:

  • Bath
  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed
  • Quiet play (story or talking time)
  • Cuddles
  • Bed

When choosing the activities think about what your child likes and what you enjoy as well. If your child likes reading stories, but you don’t, you might want to consider something else (although reading is a very important developmental tool). If your child doesn’t like having a bath, you shouldn’t include this task to the bedtime routine (bath your child earlier in the day to avoid a fuss at bedtime).

At the end of the routine you should place your child in bed and say goodnight. If the child protests you should maintain calm, yet be firm and be clear that it is time to sleep now and leave the room.

Introducing a bedtime routine

Incorporating a transition period in the bedtime routine is important.

Let your child know that play time will be over soon by announcing that in 10 minutes you are going to start the bedtime routine. Remind her when there is 5, 2 and 1 minute left. Your child won’t have a full understanding of time, but she will soon understand the idea of the countdown. You can start the routine 20-30 minutes before the desired bed time (somewhere around 6pm and 8pm is ideal).

However, if your child is older and you wish to move to an earlier bedtime, you will need to change the time gradually. For example, if your child is used to going to asleep at 9 pm, set this as a temporary bedtime and start moving bedtime forward 10 minutes every few days until you reach the desired bedtime.

For example:

  • Start routine at 8:40, put child in bed at 9 for the first week
  • Move routine to 8:30, put child in bed at 8:50 for a few nights (3 is a good number)
  • Continue moving bedtime until desired time is achieved.

Research indicates that children who follow a routine and develop healthy sleep habits are more able to improve general behaviours, cognitive development, control of emotions and relationships.