I have a premonition that we’ve been very lucky with Hayden. He rarely fights us when it’s time to go to bed for the night or for a nap. But I also attribute some of our luck to hard work in developing a bedtime routine from the time he was very small (about 3 months old). A bedtime routine is a great way to calm your child and help him or her transition from activities of the day to the quiet of the night (and hopefully sleep!). Eventually, repetition will help to condition your child (I hate saying that, but it’s true) to associate the bedtime routine with sleep.
A Toddler Bedtime Routine
Here’s what our bedtime routine looks like today:
- Shallow bath in the big tub. Brush teeth. Soap and washing twice a week. (Usually, this one is mostly done by Daddy)
- Dry off, put on diaper and onesie.
- At this point, Hayden stands up and knows what’s next. He grins, giggles and runs across the room to where his rocking chair waits.
- After he climbs into his rocking chair, Daddy reads him a story (or a few pages) while Mommy puts on his socks. (Lately he doesn’t want to stay in his chair. He sits on my lap while Ryan reads.)
- Daddy says good night, turns off the light, shuts the door and turns on the fan (white noise) in the hallway.
- Mommy gives Marty to Hayden (unless he got him during his story, which happens a lot), cradles him in her arms and maybe wraps him in a blanket.
- Mommy sings “Baby Beluga,” usually with made up words about Hayden. After a verse or two, Mommy gives Hayden a kiss and lays him down in his crib.
By now, it’s very rare for Hayden to cry or call out once we put him down. Of course, we’ve refined this routine for our family over the last year. See also the followup with more bedtime routine tips.
An Evolving Bedtime Routine
Over time, your child’s needs change. Once I stopped nursing Hayden to sleep, his night time bedtime routine looked like this:
- Bath in warm soapy water
- Towel off and rub lotion on dry areas (feet, hands, elbows, calves).
- Put on diaper and pajamas. I discovered that one of the reasons why this drove him nuts before was because at this point he was starving. By moving his feeding up to the beginning of the routine, he was much more agreeable at this point!
- Hold him, rocking gently and singing 2-3 songs. Put him in bed once he starts sucking his fingers.
Before this, our bedtime routine was even shorter.
Baby’s First Bedtime Routine
Our first bed time routine was very, very basic (he was three months, after all!).
- Bath in warm soapy water (like this one)
- Put on diaper and pajamas
- Nurse him to sleep
Everyone and their mother will tell you not to nurse your baby to sleep, but this worked for us for a long, long time. I don’t really remember the transition being that hard, but it did take a few days.
A Naptime Routine
A naptime routine is a huge help in getting your child to take his or her naps! Our routine is very short:
Turn on the fan. Hold him, rocking gently and singing 2-3 songs (now we’re down to one). Put him in bed once he starts sucking his fingers. (He’s mostly grown out of this by now, but I’ve seen him do it a couple times lately.)
Tips for Creating Your Own Bedtime Routine
- Do what works for you. Baths, books and storytelling, songs and night time rituals are good. I had a sister with a deathly fear of monsters; every night my mom sprayed her room with a “monster spray.”
- Make your children comfortable. Every night for years our family prayed for “no needles in the bed, no throw up” to reassure another sister (who really did find a pin in her bed once, prompting the addition to our prayers).
- If possible, put the most distressing task at the beginning of the routine.
- Go slow and talk softly.
- Use dim lights.
- Involve your spouse in the bedtime routine. That way, if you’re ever called away (or out having fun!) at night, he’ll be able to take over with confidence and minimal disruption to the routine.
- Use repetition. If your children are at the age where they want the same book(s) every night, use it to your advantage. We do things in pretty much the same order and sing the same lullaby every night.
- Once I quit nursing Hayden to sleep, I put him down while he was still awake, but obviously on his way to sleeping. By now, I can put him down after one yawn or eye rub and he’ll go to sleep on his own.
- Use a security object. It took months of us giving it to him every nap and night for Hayden to become attached, but now he really loves Marty, his monkey. He almost seems relieved to see him when he knows it’s time for sleep.
Our bedtime routine has helped Hayden go to bed well for almost anyone (Mom, Dad, Aunties and friends) and, I think, eventually helped him to sleep through the night. I can only hope our future children will benefit from our bed time routines, too!
Good luck creating your own bedtime routines!
See also the followup with more bedtime routine tips.
I should probably mention the books that really helped me with establishing a bedtime routine: Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West (with Joanne Kenen) and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.