3 Tips for Adopting a Better Bedtime Routine

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Feeding & Sleeping, Amazing Parents, Bedtime, Cabin Fever

Bedtime. It can be the best of times, and it can be the worst of times. Often, after a full day of activities together, it cannot come soon enough. But as many parents will tell you, the calming, quiet routines we share with our children as we settle them off to sleep can also be the sweetest moments in the whole day.

Cabin Fever has spent the better part of a decade reading, singing, soothing (and wrangling) a succession of toddlers off to sleep, and though at times it seemed like it would never end, it will. And soon. My youngest turns two in a month. These peaceful, shared moments are fleeting.

Routines change as children grow. The bedtime routine for an infant looks different from the bedtime routine for the toddler, or for the school-aged child. Other factors affect bedtime routines, too. Bedtime is managed differently if one parent is handling it alone, for example; or if the needs of several different age groups must be met.

But no matter what changes, and no matter the variables, the basics of the bedtime routine remain the same. Bedtime falls (roughly) into three distinct stages: the Clean-up, the Winding Down, and the Actually Falling Asleep. Here's how it looks at our house...
1. Clean-up


Bedtime preparation starts as soon as supper ends. With two parents on duty, one handles the kitchen clean-up and supervises the older children's homework and piano practice (or, more often, their free time to run around the house and play Star Wars), while the other takes the toddler to his bath. The rule at our house: if you're still wearing a diaper, a daily bath is mandatory.

After bath time, the toddler is dressed in his pajamas, and everyone gathers for a bedtime snack. (Bedtime snack is a whole separate topic. Don't get me started. I've just finished the supper dishes.) Snacks are simple: cereal with milk or soy milk, or a sweet dessert, on the rare occasion that I've made it. Snack time post-pajamas does risk toddler spills, but makes for a smooth transition to tooth-brushing and story time.

One by one, everyone brushes his or her teeth (or, in the case of the younger children, has his or her teeth brushed). Maybe a few toys get picked up in here somewhere. Probably not. Clean-up time (for the children, at least) is over.

2. Winding Down

Mama carries the two youngest children up the stairs. Toddler joins the four-year-old in her room, where she gets into pajamas, and crawls into bed. She's tired. It's snuggle-time. Mama chooses a book (just one!). Toddler squeezes in. Sometimes he listens and points and chats while Mama reads and four-year-old complains, and sometimes he brings his own board book to look at, while snuggling up on Mama's lap. It's a feat of motherly multitasking, but the moment is nevertheless very much worth it. If all goes well, by the end of the story, both toddler and four-year-old are relaxed and calm.

Goodnight kisses and hugs are offered (best of all, toddler kisses and hugs his big sister, and vice-versa). Lights out in this room. It's time to assess the toddler's state. Has he taken a late afternoon nap--still brimming with spare energy? Or is he ready to conk out? We might join Daddy and big brother in the playroom, where one is playing songs on the guitar, and the other is reading in his favourite beanbag chair. One more book. One last song.

But other nights, it's straight to bed. Tucked in. Bear and monkey and tiger nearby. One last kiss. "I wuv oo, Mama!"

3. Actually Falling Asleep

This seems like it should be the simplest item in the bedtime routine. Would that it were. What is the magical chemistry that takes a child from waking to sleeping in peaceful repose? Some toddlers fight this final transition tooth and nail. Others willingly cuddle beneath the covers with bear in arms, and drift off to dreamland. I've had experiences with both types of toddlers, and I'm inclined to say: it's not me, it's them. But there are ways to make this transition come about more easily.

The steady wind-down provided by a familiar routine helps. A dark and quiet room helps. Sometimes an extra kiss helps, or a sibling sharing the room. Staying patient and calm always helps. And, most of all, knowing your child helps. Some of us are night owls, right from birth. Others are early birds. Having a routine is important, but it's just as important to stay flexible, to notice when something isn't working, and to tweak and improvise.

Tonight, I'm holding my toddler for a few minutes on the couch, till his big brother is ready to join him in their shared room. He snuggles in and wants to chat. Tonight, I'm glad for these extra minutes together. Because this, too, shall pass.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.