Child Bedtime Routines Dos and Don'ts

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Whether you have an infant, toddler, kindergartner, or preteen, practical discipline strategies and a good bedtime routine can be the difference between good sleep habits and a lot of sleepless nights. However, setting up an effective bedtime routine can be easier said than done.

Look no further than the fact that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of books about kids and sleep problems, from Dr. Ferber's "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" to Elizabeth Pantley's "No-Cry Sleep Solution." So, you are not alone if your little one has trouble going to (and staying in) bed. However, tried and true methods for getting your child to sleep can really help.

While pediatric sleep experts may suggest slightly different methods, most advise that a good bedtime routine is key to a good night's sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its book "Guide to Your Child's Sleep," says that "it's almost impossible to overstress the importance of a calm, orderly bedtime routine." Learn more about the top bedtime routine dos and don'ts.

Toddler to Preteen Bedtime Routine Dos and Don'ts

Follow these dos and don'ts to establish an effective bedtime routine for your child, from babyhood all the way to the teen years.

  • Be consistent
  • Include dental hygiene
  • Keep it short
  • Make it age-appropriate
  • Offer limited choices
  • Have them use the potty
  • Establish a bedtime routine early
  • Prepare for a little crying
  • Make the room dark
  • Use a security object
  • Don't allow stimulating activities before bed
  • Don't think poor sleep habits will just go away
  • Don't create poor sleep associations
  • Don't drag it out
  • Don't give them caffeine before bed

Setting a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine includes all of the things that you do with your baby or child just before you put them to bed, such as taking a bath, the last diaper change, putting on pajamas, and reading a bedtime story.

The goal of a good bedtime routine is for your child to fall asleep on their own, without being rocked, watching TV, or having you lying down next to them. This way, if they do wake up later, they should be able to fall back asleep without needing any extra help.

If your child associates falling asleep with being rocked, for example, if they wake up in the middle of the night, they likely won't be able to go back to sleep unless you rock them.

There is no single right way to set up a bedtime routine. Some kids like to hear a bedtime story, others may want to talk about their day, and some may just want to say their prayers and go to sleep. As long as your child falls asleep easily and sleeps all night, then your bedtime routine is likely working well.

Bedtime Dos

When developing a bedtime routine, it's important to set the stage for settling down and drifting off. Try these effective techniques as you develop the routine that works best for your child.

Be Consistent

Your bedtime routine may change over time, as your child gets older, but it should be fairly consistent from day to day, starting at the same time and going in the same order. For example, a toddler's bedtime routine might start at 6:30 p.m. and include a bath, putting on pajamas, reading a few bedtime stories, getting in bed, and a final goodnight.

Include Dental Hygiene

Whether you are cleaning your baby's gums or reminding your older child to brush and floss, proper dental hygiene is a good habit to include in your child's bedtime routine each night.

Keep It Short

Keep it simple and fairly short. A good bedtime routine will probably last about 10 to 15 minutes, or a little longer if you include a bath.

Make It Age-Appropriate

Your child's bedtime routine will change over time. For example, while it is expected for a newborn or younger infant to fall asleep nursing or drinking a bottle of formula, you can try and start putting your baby down while they are drowsy but still awake once they are four or five months old.

Offer Limited Choices

Your child can't decide when to go to bed or how long the routine is, but you can let them have some control over their bedtime routine. For example, let them choose between two pairs of pajamas and select which books to read.

Have Them Go Potty

Remind kids to use the bathroom. This is especially important for younger kids who still have issues with bedwetting. Additionally, some children will use needing to go potty as a stalling technique. Circumvent that delay tactic by making sure they go before they get in bed.

Establish a Bedtime Routine Early

It is much easier to begin a good bedtime routine when your baby is young than to try and change poor sleep routines when you have a toddler or preschooler who still isn't sleeping well. However, it's never too late to adopt an effective bedtime routine that promotes positive sleep habits.

Prepare for a Little Crying

Some kids will cry for a few minutes as they settle down for sleep or when they wake up in the middle of the night. This can be okay if they quickly settle down and you are comfortable letting them cry for a few minutes. Keep in mind that even the Ferber Method doesn't advocate simply letting kids cry all night.

Make the Room Dark

Blackout shades can be helpful for getting your child's bedroom dark enough to promote sleep (especially in the summer when it is still daylight at bedtime). Blackout shades may also help your child sleep a little longer in the morning. But since few toddlers like to sleep in the dark, a dim night light is often useful. Just make sure it is not too bright.

Use a Security Object

A security object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, can be an important part of a good bedtime routine, but only for children one-year-old and older. These types of items aren't safe for babies to sleep with, as nothing should be in the crib in order to reduce the risks of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Bedtime Don'ts

Just like there are a lot of right ways to have a good bedtime routine, there are also things you should avoid that often make bedtime more challenging for parents and kids alike.

Don't Allow Stimulating Activities Before Bed

Avoid active play or electronics before bed. Especially if your child has trouble falling asleep, it's usually best to stop stimulating activities, such as roughhousing, running around, playing video games, or watching TV, 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.

Don't Think Poor Sleep Habits Will Just Go Away

Don't assume that your child will outgrow poor sleep habits. Unfortunately, if nothing is done, many children who have sleep problems as infants and toddlers continue to sleep poorly even once they start school. The sooner you fix your child's poor sleep habits, including starting a good bedtime routine, the better.

Don't Create Poor Sleep Associations

Rubbing your child's back until they fall asleep, having music playing, or keeping the TV on can mean your child will need help getting back to sleep if they later wake up. And no, simply keeping the TV or music on all night doesn't work. If your child wakes up, they will still cry out for you and need your help to go back to sleep.

Don't Drag It Out

Set boundaries and be consistent. If you are not careful, your child will drag out your bedtime routine with repeated calls for drinks, snacks, or to use the bathroom. They may plead for extra stories or songs. Older kids may also suddenly remember homework they need to do. Aim to address these concerns before you begin your routine so that you can stick to your original bedtime.

Don't Give Them Caffeine Before Bed

Avoid giving kids caffeinated drinks or foods, especially right before bed. Keep in mind that in addition to soda and tea, caffeine can be a hidden ingredient in other foods, such as coffee-flavored ice cream and chocolate.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy sleep habits: how many hours does your child need?.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.