Regular Signals, Regular Sleep
When you first bring your infant home from the hospital, there may seem to be no rhyme or reason to how you get him to fall asleep. I may be different every time: rocking, strolling, whatever it takes for your baby (and you) to get rest and restoration, you do it. But eventually a pattern develops and you can repeat activities or events or actions to help ease your child to sleep. Congratulations! You have just established your child’s first bedtime routine! Now…keep it up (with tweaks) for the next 18 years.
Bedtime routines, so important in early childhood, continue to be important throughout a child's life. Whether three or 13, bedtime or nighttime parenting is teaching your child about appropriate behavior, self-care and generally helping them grow to adulthood. Sounds a lot like all the rest of the parenting you do, doesn't it?
Establishing a bedtime routine helps you create an environment and situation condusive to sleep for your child. Before your child is able to express him or herself verbally, it's creating signals for the conscious and subconscious that now is the time to settle down. Granted, it's not foolproof, but used consistently, routines help children (and you) set expectations and get into rest mode more quickly.
Books, baths, snuggle rituals and soothing music are all common elements of successful sleep routines. Choose elements that you know you'll be able to maintain and tolerate for the long haul. And don't be surprised if you are a little drowsy after working through your child's bedtime routine with them -- maybe even take it as the signal to get more sleep yourself.
No matter what kind of routine you develop, limit distractions. Electronics and screens of any kind should be off or preferably not in the bedroom at all. Keep your routines focused and calm. Sleep research has shown that the increasing prevalence of electronics in our lives is impacting sleep cycles. Because sleep is so important, we must be vigilant in limiting those kinds of distractions as we help our kids develop health sleep rituals.
Once a bedtime routine is set, it doesn't mean it's absolutely set in stone. Routines can and must be tweaked as kids age and situations change. You likely will tweak over time anyway, without much thought about it…but try not to change it up completely all at once. Let one element at time settle in before tweaking something else.
One of the hardest parts of routines can be maintaining them over time. You may get a little bored with it, but if your child is doing well, don't let down your efforts! As with parenting issues like discipline and nutrition, consistency is important.
Maintaining regular sleep routines in childhood is a gift to your child right up into adulthood. Understanding the importance of sleep, rest, and restoration will have positive health impact for the long run.
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