Does the bedtime routine drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R? (And it seems to be getting worse?)
Maybe you always do “bedtime duty” with your toddler or preschooler before the sitter comes because a) you think she won’t have success and your child will still be up when you get home, b) your child will flip out with someone new trying to follow your routine, or c) you’re more than a little embarrassed by the whole thing that it’s just easier to do it yourself?
Are you wondering why your little cutie pie is prolonging this experience? And more importantly, how to speed things up?!
Well, you’re in the right place!
This is something I work on with every family – keeping the bedtime routine short and sweet.
But not too short.
If it’s too short, your child won’t be ready for bed – you need to give him or her enough time to settle and get ready for sleep.
And similarly, if it’s too long, then you start feeling like Cruise Director Julie from the Love Boat shuffling your little one from activity to activity in hopes of wearing her out physically and mentally and she’ll fall asleep faster – but more likely she’ll just get her second wind!
[Sorry, couldn’t help sharing a little humor with that cute puppy – I just want you to know that you’re not alone in needing to prod and coax someone to bed!]
SO, here are some of the tips that I give to my clients when they tell me bedtime is taking too long:
Tip #1 Make sure you and your child enjoy the bedtime routine
If you hate bath time, then don’t include that in your routine! Just because bath time may be a good first step for some families doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for yours. Figure out what works best for YOU – meaning not too stimulating but still relaxing and enjoyable!
The bedtime routine for toddlers and preschoolers can include any (or all) of these:
- brushing teeth
- potty (especially when you start potty training, I highly recommend “double voiding” – your child goes to the bathroom at the beginning AND at the end of the routine)
- reading stories
- singing songs
- talking about your day – Best thing that happened today? Did you do anything nice for someone else? Did someone do something nice for you? – I would stay away from What was the most funny thing about today?…you’ll likely get your child laughing uncontrollably, which is the exact opposite of settling down! Especially if both parents work, this is a great time to share what YOU did today while you were away!
Notice there isn’t any tv or time on the ipad listed. There are a gazillion studies about blue light affecting melatonin production and the recommendation is to turn off technology and dim lights at least 60-90 minutes before bedtime. I always tell my clients that a great rule to implement is no tv (or screen time) after dinner.
Tip #2 Prevent that hyper “he’ll never go to sleep now” phase
Remember that overtiredness looks like hyper behavior – that same behavior you’re probably battling with each night because he’s bouncing all over the place! If he’s getting into bed overtired, I guarantee he’ll be up for a while (or up again within the hour) because it’s hard to settle down and fall asleep and stay asleep in that state.
For the best timing, take a look at when the last nap was – toddlers and preschoolers who are still napping should be going to bed 4-6 hours after waking from the afternoon nap.
Tip #3 Aim for a bedtime routine of 20-30 minutes
I think I just heard a few parents let out an audible “huh”??? I bet for a lot of you, your routine is closer to 60-90 minutes, right?
If that’s the case, either you’re not on time management patrol like you should be OR your child is the master of stalling. Or both!
My best advice is to set a timer for the bath and tell your child exactly how many stories (or songs) there will be (and try to keep that number consistent every night). The Time Timer is also an amazing product that shows a visual of how much time is left. (Bonus tip: for kiddos who are resistant to the bedtime routine starting, start the timer 10 minutes before and give 5 and 2 minute warnings!)
Typically with toddlers and preschoolers, the routine will be closer to 20 minutes since there isn’t a bottle in the routine. So work backwards and write down how long each of the “activities” will take to get into that 20-30 minutes range: 10 minutes for bath, jammies and brushing teeth (most families I work with have a too long bath time…shortening that will speed things up considerably), 5-10 minutes for stories, 5 minutes for chatting about your day, etc.
Tip #4 Make sure you’re not helping too much
Many times, children will be resistant to bedtime because they just don’t know how to fall asleep easily on their own! Think about, if there was some activity you really didn’t like doing, wouldn’t you keep procrastinating and putting it off? Well, that’s what your child is doing by stalling at bedtime!
If your child needs you to lie down in his bed or tickle his back until he’s asleep, then he is relying on you to get him from awake to asleep. I also suspect that if that’s the case, he’s up in the middle of the night or way too early in the morning – because he wants (needs) you to recreate how he originally went to bed.
It’s important to teach him how to develop those independent sleep skills, if for no other reason (although enjoying bedtime is probably reason enough!), when he’s invited for his first sleepover, he’s not embarrassed because he needs you to come with him (true story – a family I worked with was in that exact situation when they’re child was 7)!
Every child is different and every situation is unique, so if you need help with this area, I can fix this problem!
Tip # 5 Bedtime Routine Chart
Following the same routine each night will help your child learn the process quicker and having a visual chart to see what’s next and “check” things off makes the process more fun.
Implementing a routine chart when you’re putting your child to bed will make it that much easier when a sitter is in charge – your child will know what’s expected of him (and most likely be excited to “show off ” his routine for the sitter) and the sitter will know the sequence and do the routine the way your child is used to doing it!
I have a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board aptly named Bedtime Routine Charts for inspiration!
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Photo: © Depositphotos.com | romrodinka