It’s time for bed, mummy said! But will they listen?
Sometimes telling an infant, toddler, child or even teen to go to bed doesn’t work. Sometimes it takes a schedule to help them settle into a healthy sleep routine and prepare their little brains and bodies for bed.
Every household is different but here are some suggestions for bedtime routines based on age and stage. Of course, it’s up to you to amend as needed, work around your specific schedule and convince your children to actually stick to the plan.
Bedtime routines for the whole family
Sorry parents, brand new babies and routine don’t usually go together. Generally, bub may start to settle into a routine around one month. But it can take longer.
- Bath – You may want to try giving bub a bath at night as a way to wind down.
- Fresh nappy – And clean PJs! Use a swaddle or wrap to keep that newborn startle reflex from waking them up.
- Boob/bottle – You can follow this up with boob/bottle and then aim for bed. It might work. Or she might wake up 15 minutes later wide eyed and ready to feed again.
- Repeat step 3 and 4 – Over and over and over again.
- Try not to stress or force routine. Remember, for nine months bub has been able to eat, sleep and poop whenever so it’s a big change for them.
- Help bub understand the difference between night and day by keeping the curtains open during the day and making use of the darkness at night.
- To help bub settle to sleep, you can try rocking, swaddling, gentle patting or even hushing which can help your wee one wind down.
Around the age of three to six months your little one may be ready to start getting in to some sort of bedtime routine.
- Bath – After dinner (if you’re at the weaning stage), head to the bath to clean your messy monster.
- Fresh nappy and teeth clean – You may also want to incorporate a gentle massage before putting pyjamas on. Massage is an excellent cue to teach bubba it’s almost time for bed. Baby might not have teeth yet, but either way a quick wipe over their gums helps establish a routine.
- Book – Baby doesn’t NEED a book, but the soft sound of your voice can help soothe them to sleep. Some parents may also want to include a lullaby to help get bub to settle.
- Boob/bottle – Some mums may choose to feed to sleep or others will opt for bubba’s last feed before bed prior to books. It’s up to you.
- Sleep aids – If you are using sleep aids, such as a swaddle, dummy, white noise machine, etcetera, now’s the time to pull them out.
- Bed – Some people like to pat baby to sleep, some like to stroke baby’s forehead, some prefer to put baby down and try to let them self-settle. The choice is up to you.
- Go with your instincts. No routine is set in stone. You may choose to co-sleep or feed to sleep or skip the nighttime bath and do it in the morning.
- Consider a sleeping bag, swaddle or sleep suit to help keep bub from wriggling through the night and waking himself up.
- Tag team. If you’re starting to get frustrated that bub just won’t settle, walk away for 15 minutes and let your partner try while you calm down a bit.
Toddlers are often the trickiest to get down for the night, simply because they don’t want to stop playing, exploring and learning. But, we all need our sleep. Especially energetic toddlers.
- Bath – Also known as, witnessing a tidal wave in your bathtub.
- Toilet or nappy and teeth clean – Depending on what stage you are at in the toileting adventures. You can try a gentle massage with your toddler too which can settle him down.
- Book – Or 17 of them.
- Request water, food and cuddles – And a non-itchy blanket, a new teddy, the fan to be higher, the room to be lighter and probably to sleep in your bed. Be strong, you’ve got this!
- Repeat step 4 – 103 times, give or take.
- Be firm but patient. You’re the bedtime boss even if toddlers often like to think they are.
- A sleep suit with legs can also be a great sleeping aid for toddlers, especially if they’ve already transitioned from cot to bed.
- Be aware of toddler sleep problems. These include sleep apnea, nightmares and night terrors.
Fingers crossed by the time your little one hits the preschool age, they are sleeping through the night. Most nights at least. Preschoolers will probably follow a similar routine to toddlers.
- Bath – See toddler bath-time.
- Quiet play time – You may want to include 15 minutes of quiet time at this age which can include playing blocks, doing a puzzle or colouring in.
- Toilet or nappy and teeth clean – Although your preschooler probably thinks she can brush her own teeth, it’s important you still help her (aka do it for her) at this age.
- Ask 75 questions about life – FACT: Preschoolers turn into philosophers when the sun goes down.
- Bed – A nightlight can be a useful bedtime tool at this age, especially if they need to get up in the night to go to the toilet.
- If incorporating quiet play into the bedtime routine, avoid anything messy, like craft. Because no mum wants to spend her evening cleaning up glitter. Sorry, but no.
- Limit screen times in the follow up to bed as well. No screens for a half an hour before lights out.
- Try not to give any food or drink during the bedtime routine if your preschooler is still in the toilet training stages.
Adding a day of school to the mix can mean school aged kids (especially preppies) need a bit more sleep. And it also means adding homework to the daily routine. Good times.
- Bath/Shower/Teeth – By the time school roles around, kids have this routine down pat. Bubble baths are still a favourite, but you may need to use an egg timer to make sure teeth get a proper brush.
- Quiet time – Watch a bit of a movie (nothing scary), play a game, build some LEGO, draw a picture.
- Reading time – Aim for 15 to 30 minutes a night. From grade two or thee, kids are often able to read to themselves, but they’ll still love reading aloud to you or having you read a bedtime tale to them.
- Lights out/ bed – Linger for a few minutes if you like, especially if you think your kiddo has something on their mind. Leave the door open if they ask – some kids feel comforted to know mum and dad are nearby, while others prefer dark and quiet.
- Don’t overload them during the day. Make sure their daily routine involves down time as well. Or else they are simply too overworked and wound up to sleep.
- Keep your bedtime routine screen free. Make sure it’s screens down one half hour before bedtime and take the devices out of the room before lights out.
- School aged kids can face a lot of stress during the day. This pressure and even anxiety may come out at night. If your child is having trouble sleeping or even regressing, don’t worry. Reassure him, tickle his back and talk to him.
It can be tricky to keep a teen on a routine, especially with extra-curricular activities and homework. Some teens function on less sleep than others but all teens still need a bit of structure.
- Study – Finish any homework at least 30 minutes before bed to give the brain time to chill and relax.
- Shower/teeth/groom – Sometimes you may need to remind them to use soap.
- Quiet time – Watch some TV, read a book, play a game. Do something to unwind. This is a good time to chat to your teen about their day – when they’re relaxed, they may be more likely to reveal things that are bothering them.
- No tech – Phones, computers and all technology should be put away 30 minutes before bed. And definitely no phones or devices in the bedrooms overnight.
- Lights out/bed – Let them play some quiet music if it helps them relax, but don’t let them trick you into playing it from their phone or device.
- Set up a family charging station for devices where they remain during the night. Lock it in a cupboard if you have to.
- Ask your teen to get in the habit of making his bed in the morning. Having a freshly made bed to crawl into at night can be very comforting and soothing, even for teenagers.
- Limit coffee and energy drinks after 4pm. Or at all…
Have a look at these 20 tips for a peaceful bedtime for more ideas on sleep routines for kids. And if you’d like to try a swaddle, sleeping bag or sleep suit for your baby or toddler, then here’s a brilliant Sleep Week offer just for Mum Central readers.