Sleep can be an emotional issue for the whole family. Children are often reluctant to separate from Mom and Dad at the end of the day. They’re revved up and they want to continue the fun. They may also have some fears about the dark or feeling isolated from loved ones.
Meanwhile, sleep-deprived parents may be longing for a chance for some shut-eye themselves, or even just some quiet time with each other. On the other hand, parents who have spent a long day at work may crave more time with their children than bedtime allows. Often it’s a mix of several feelings, making it a complicated time. Bedtime is hard for parents, too.
Here’s what you can do to develop bedtime rituals that make sense.
DO: Consider a ritual carefully
Not every bedtime routine will stand the test of time. Once something becomes established in your child’s mind, she’ll come to expect it — and do you really want to sing the entire soundtrack to The Lion King night after night? Choose your rituals carefully or you may regret them.
Some good, time-tested rituals to consider:
- A warm bath, followed by some snuggle time in clean jammies.
- Reading a favorite book or listening to soothing music.
- A favorite song, sung by Mom, Dad or the whole family.
- Being tucked in tight with a special dolly, stuffed animal or blanket.
- A gentle back rub.
DO: Be consistent
Have a fairly firm bedtime and a predictable order of events. Toddlers will benefit from a reminder about half an hour ahead of time, then another about 10 minutes before bedtime. Suddenly springing bedtime on kids will only make them more reluctant to give up their current activity. Make sure the ritual takes place in their own room or sleeping areas, too.
DO: Keep activity low-key
Don’t over-stimulate your child right before bed. For a baby, clear out the mounds of stuffed animals from the crib and offer her just one favorite to settle down with. Removing toys will signal that it’s time to quiet down. For an older child, no roughhousing or watching TV before bed.
DON’T: Let the ritual become too elaborate
With a 10-month-old, your routine may last just a few minutes, whereas 15 to 30 minutes is the right length of time for a toddler or preschooler. More than 30 minutes is almost always too long.
DON’T: Leave the lights on
It’s important for a child to learn to distinguish day from night — and that nighttime is for sleeping. If she does wake up and it’s dark, she’ll know that it’s not time to get up yet. Leaving a bright light on is confusing.