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How to make a bedtime routine chart work well for your child

You’ve had a busy day running around with your toddler or preschooler.

And you’re pooped!

You’re so ready for lights out…but it never seems like a fast or easy process.

You need a bedtime routine chart!

As long as your child can fall asleep on his own, then it’s just a matter of getting him to do it in a reasonable amount of time…and a chart will be quite helpful to make this happen. (If you still need to rock your child to sleep or lie with him until he’s asleep, then you need to fix those issues before a routine chart will work well!)

A bedtime routine chart is great for:How to make a bedtime routine chart work for your child

  • toddlers and preschoolers who stall and ask for one last thing every night
  • making the transition from playing to getting ready for bed
  • visual learners who need to see the sequence to better understand the process
  • keeping parents and other caregivers on the same page (makes things so much easier for sitters!)
  • helping you to stay cool and calm through the process because the steps are there and you don’t have to yell like a fishwife, “Come ooooon! Brush your teeth!!!!!”

Here are 4 tips to make a bedtime routine chart work for your child:

1. Make it age appropriate
For 2 year olds, just have the bare necessities (bath, brush teeth, pajamas, potty) with pictures (clip art or photos of your child doing each step). Taking pictures of your child doing each step is a bit more work, but it’ll make the process more relevant for your toddler – and it’ll be a fun keepsake to look at when they’re in college!

For older kids you can include the specific times that each step should start and a place for them to “mark off” that it’s been completed. You can use a laminated chart with a dry erase marker, stickers, magnets, close pins, velcro, beads with string…the possibilities are endless! I would look at some charts online and ask which one she might like to use best. (I have a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board for Bedtime Routine Charts.) Having her excited about using it will ensure that she won’t forget about it a few days after it’s up!

2. Everyone needs to be on board
Does mom put the kids to bed during the week and dad does weekends? Is there a grandma or nanny sometimes in the mix? Make sure that everyone is following the same order and timing. If mom is following it every night without exception and then once or twice a week someone else is in charge and starts late and/or skips steps, the process will lose it’s appeal.

When everyone is doing the same routine, it becomes a habit much faster (and makes things so much easier, especially for those – like sitters – who only occasionally put your child to bed).

3. Use as a reward chart…or not
I would start with the “reward” being the child can cross off (or put a sticker on, etc) each step and have that sense of completion. If you find that your child needs a little more to entice him to get through the process without stalling and fussing, you may want to consider a different reward.

I’m not a huge fan of material rewards (ie, “If you go to bed quickly I’ll buy you a truck at Target tomorrow”). I think “experience” rewards work equally well. An experience could be going to a favorite (or new) park, a trip to the museum, baking some muffins with mom, Skyping grandma in FL…but it should be something with you (or a family member)! Obviously you can’t go to the museum every day, so in that case, you might say, “If you have __ number of days that you do well with the bedtime routine chart, we can go to the zoo!” (And then, mark off each successful day so he can see his progress towards the goal!)

4. Build “one last thing” into your reward chart
Once your child is in bed, do you often get, “Moooooooom, can I have one last drink of waaaaaaater?” Or one last kiss, or can I pet the dog one last time, or can I say goodnight to my baby sister one more time, or can I look out the window and make sure the moon is still there…one more time?

If you have a chronic “staller”, build that one last thing into your routine. So if your daughter always asks to give dad one more hug, that should be a step in your routine right before lights out.


There are so many different routine charts: homemade, printables, store bought…you just need to find one that your child will be excited to use!

Need inspiration for a bedtime routine chart? Check out my Pinterest board!


Photo credit: Deposit Photos | rbvrbv

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