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How bedtime routines help kids' sleep

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Reconnect at bedtime

What should you do when your child's sleeping patterns change? I've always been something of a stickler about the bedtime routine. The kids have them for a reason, I think, and we remain committed to them. But even with very good consistency, we still go through phases when the same old routine doesn't quite work as well for various environmental or developmental reasons. What to do in these phases is hard to know. Do we stick with the routine as it has stood? Or do we tweak it? Is there something else going on?

The bedtime routine is about - of course - establishing good sleep hygiene so the kids can get the rest they need. It's also about consistency in the home routine so my husband and I can keep things going around the house, and have a little grown-up time in our day. When suddenly one of the kids can't fall asleep consistently and it's not attributable to illness, it disrupts more than just the kids' routine - it affects the whole house!

Look at the bigger picture

Is there something else big going on in your child's life that might be affecting bedtime? A developmental achievement or transition? A stress in his or her life? I remember vividly each of my kids' sleep disruptions around the times they each learned to crawl - it was like they didn't want to go to sleep else risk forgetting how to do this cool new trick they learned. In those cases, riding out the disruption and making no change to the routine was the right thing to do. Within about a week or so, the routine and the sleeping all went back to normal.Similarly, during school transitions sleep routines might get disrupted a bit due to excitement or anxiety. In these instances, I find a little validation and reassurance goes a long way - right along with keeping the sleep routine consistent.As kids get older, though, the routine often needs adjustment in terms of timing and specifics of the routine. These tweaks are highly kid specific - but the most important thing is to keep a routine. What was right when they were six months old isn't the same as what is right when they are six years old. The specifics of the sleep routine must evolve. As my oldest son has started to grow into adolescence, for example, I'm learning that some of his sleep routine variations are attributable to biology. He simply can't fall asleep at an earlier hour. His sleep routine has evolved even more, even while I offer him more education on why sleep is so important.

Don't rush it

Interestingly, though, I've found that about half the time my kids have disruptions in their sleep routines, I've been somewhat to blame: I had gotten in the habit of rushing through the routine with them. For whatever reason - sometimes it's been work, sometimes some other stressor - for some period of time (more than just a day or two) I'd spent the minutes while in the kids routine with them focusing mentally on just getting through it to the other side. The kids sensed that I wasn't really with them, and reacted in a way that would get them more time with me: staying awake and needing still more attention at bedtime and so on.It turns out, bedtime is a pretty special time for the kids. It's when they get real one-on-one time with me, sometimes the only time in the day! They don't want to rush it, and they want my full psychic energy when I am with them. I can't blame them! Our lives are busy and solo time is precious! When I give over to the time of the bedtime routine - and don't let myself think three steps ahead to after the routine when I need to do this, that, or another thing - that the routine gets back to normal, and we both feel reconnected to one another. It's better for both of us - not just their sleep hygiene.Bedtime routines are cherished moments for me and my kids. We read, we talk, we wind down. They are times for establishing good sleep habits, but they are also great moments for togetherness.

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