For many parents, getting your kids to bed can be a bitter battle, night after night. Often the key to a stress-free bedtime is to have a routine that helps them calm down and get into sleep mode. The earlier in their life that you are able to establish a bedtime ritual, the easier it will be for everyone. Plus you’ll help them to establish good habits that will carry on through the rest of their life.
Establish a routine
- Decide on a time for bed and stick to it. Make sure you opt for a time that is age appropriate and will give them enough sleep, depending on when they tend to wake in the morning or need to get up. From one to three years old, children need 12 to 14 hours, from three to five years around 11 to 13 hours, and from five to 12, 10 or 11 hours.
- Give them a bath. It can signal that it’s time to start winding down and getting ready for sleep, plus the warm water can help to calm them.
- Have quiet time between bath and bed. Keep things as calm as possible – no tickling or mucking about. Give them a cup of warm milk (which can also help with sleeping) and a hug on the sofa.
- Don’t let them watch any TV or play computer games for at least an hour before they go to bed, as this can easily over-stimulate them.
- Let them have a special bedtime toy or “blankie” that they don’t have during the day. When they’re given it to cuddle, they will associate it with bedtime and sleeping.
- Read to them in bed before lights out. Agree to the number of books or chapters you are going to read first. Don’t give in to, “Just one more?” If they are starting to read themselves, you can get them to read aloud to you or take turns reading a page each.
- Having a chat before bedtime about things like how their day was can be a nice part of the routine, but be careful not to discuss subjects that could upset, scare or excite them and make it hard for them to relax enough to fall asleep.
- Some children like a gentle back rub – my daughter loves to have her back scratched before she goes to sleep. Stroking their forehead for a short time may help to make them feel sleepy and one thing I’ve found helpful is gently tracing the line of their eyebrows with one finger. It feels soothing, and it is extremely difficult for them to keep their eyes open while this is being done.
- The final steps before lights out should be the same every night. Plump up the pillows, tuck them in, give them a kiss and say goodnight.
- Check their room is ready for bed – windows open or closed, electric blanket set to go off – so they won’t have a reason to call you back in to sort things out.
- Leave a night light on and have a torch handy in case they need to get up to go to the toilet. Give them a sippy cup or bottle of water, so they’ve got no excuse to come out to ask for a drink.
- Try to keep the house quiet until they’ve dropped off. If your child can hear you or siblings talking, they may feel that they’re missing out on something and want to get up.
- Music helps some children fall asleep. Choose tunes that are gentle and soothing, not upbeat and distracting.
Try this to bring on sleepiness My daughter occasionally has trouble drifting off, especially if she’s had a really busy day and her brain is full of thoughts. I talk her through an exercise we call “floating on a cloud” which helps her to relax. I gently tell her to imagine lying on a cloud and floating up in the sky, to notice how heavy and sleepy her body feels as she slowly drifts upwards. I encourage her to visualise going to a nice calming place – in her case a garden with beautiful flowers and trees, where birds sing and water gently trickles from a fountain – but tell her she’s just going to have a little nap on the way there. I make my voice softer and softer as I talk her through having heavy arms, legs and eyes. Often, by the time I’m down to a whisper, she’s asleep.