How to Establish Bedtime Routines for Children

Grandmother getting granddaughter ready for bed
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Want your child to go to sleep without fuss? Establishing bedtime routines for children isn't always the easiest thing to do, but it is the key to helping your preschooler (and by extension, you) get a good night sleep. 

With so much going on in the world around them—learning, running, playing, creating, eating—it’s no wonder that the last thing your preschooler wants to do is to stop the excitement and go to sleep. And as children this age establish their independence and become aware of things they can control, it’s not unlike them to turn into a filibustering politician bargaining for one more story or to stay up for one more commercial break before bedtime.

Obviously, a good night’s sleep is crucial for a child’s healthy growth, not to mention sunny disposition. With busy schedules that often include preschool, swim lessons, dance class and other activities (and don't include a nap) young children need solid snooze time more than ever. Here's how to get them to hit the pillow willingly.

Set the Rhythm for Bedtime With a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine should start the same every night. About an hour before you want your preschooler's head on the pillow, begin the winding down the process so bedtime doesn’t come abruptly. This is a great opportunity for “quality time” with your preschooler. So, if possible, turn off the phone, the TV, and the computer, and focus on being together.

Some parents find that giving a “10 Minute Warning” is effective, letting the child know that bedtime is approaching. At the end of 10 minutes, start the routine. And because some children this age don't understand the concept of time, try setting a timer. When the bell rings, it's time to start.

The key is to get your child’s body into a rhythm so they get tired at the same time every night.

Staying up too late or going to bed at different times can make your preschooler overtired or cranky, and that winds up making it more difficult to go to sleep.

Create a Bedtime Routine To-Do List

Ask your preschooler what she would like to do before bed. Some elements, like putting on pajamas and brushing teeth, are non-negotiable. But certainly, your child can decide whether he’d like to read a bedtime story or play a quiet game during the approach to final landing on the mattress. If your child tends to stall, working his methods into the schedule can give him the power he craves.

Chose four or five activities—brushing teeth, taking a bath, getting a drink of water—and create a chart that you and your child can check off after completing. If your child responds well to rewards, let him choose a sticker to put on the chart after every task is done.

Accommodate Those “One More” Requests … To a Point

If the “one more” games begin (requests for one more story, hug or sip of water) try to be patient. If your child was able to complete every part of the routine without a struggle, it’s OK to give her one more of something as long as she knows that one is the limit. Make sure you know that one is the limit too.

Remember, it’s unfair to get frustrated with a child who asks for more if they are constantly given more.

Leave the Room, but Come Back

Don’t let your child become dependent on your presence to fall asleep. Play soft music or audiobooks of children’s classics that can easily be found and downloaded. Turn on a night light, tuck him in with a lovey or other special sleeping friend and then say your goodnights. Promise your child you’ll be back in a few minutes to check on her to make sure she’s asleep. Keep that promise.

Establishing a routine takes time, and just because you have a system in place it doesn’t mean your preschooler is going to hop, skip and jump into bed with glee. But with a little patience, some planning and persistence, you’ll both wind up getting a good night’s sleep.

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