The key to a positive bedtime routine is to carry out similar activities in roughly the same way each night.
Most research finds that starting around 20 minutes before your child’s bedtime is the ideal timeframe for successful routines.
Most bedtime routines include pre-bed tasks like having a bath and brushing teeth, as well as quiet, enjoyable activities like reading a book or listening to a story. The aim is to keep the atmospherepositive, using positive attention and praise.
Here’s an example of a bedtime routine that could start after dinner, bath and teeth brushing.
Your child plays quietly for 15-20 minutes.
- You and your child go into the bedroom. Give your child advanced notice that the day is winding down and that it is time to go to sleep soon.
- You may like to pick three or four calming activities, such as reading stories, lullaby tapes, a back rub, or tucking in a doll. While reading the same stories or singing the same songs every night might seem tedious to you, it’s what children love and it is very soothing for them.
- You and your child have a brief cuddle and kiss.
- Say “goodnight” to your child. It is important to make it clear that it is time to go to sleep. You should leave the room straight away. Keep the last “goodnight” brief so that you are firm in your instructions to go sleep.
Making a start: choosing a bedtime
You might have an ideal bedtime in mind and it is important to have this closest to when you child naturally falls asleep. This increases the chance that the bedtime routine will become strongly linked to sleep time for your child.
One of the most influential aspects of a positive bedtime routine is consistency. It is important to go to bed at the same hour every night to set your child’s internal clock.
Moving your child’s actual bedtime towards your ideal bedtime is also possible.
If the time has slowly crept up, or you want to change it, take a few days to move the time back in deliberate 15-minute increments.
About a week after you introduce the positive bedtime routine, you can start to bring your child’s bedtime forward to be closer in line with an ideal bedtime you would like to set for them.
For example, if your child has been falling asleep at 9pm but you would like a 7pm bedtime, here’s what to do:
- Start by putting your child to bed at 8.50pm.
- Use 8.50pm as the bedtime for several nights.
- Move bedtime back to 8.40 pm for the next few nights.
- Continue this gradual ‘fading’ process until your child is going to bed at 7pm.