You know your child needs enough sleep to stay healthy, but sometimes kids aren’t quite ready to quit playing when it’s time to go to bed. To help them learn how to make the transition from playtime to bedtime with ease, establish a bedtime routine.
This routine doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. If it is, you’ll wear yourself out trying to keep up with it night after night. Instead, focus on simple, intentional rituals that you can do together before bed.
To help you create the perfect bedtime routine for your family, we’ve compiled a list of tricks and tips. These tried-and-tested ideas can make bedtime something your child looks forward to each night.
What Is A Bedtime Routine?
When you hear the words “bedtime routine,” what comes to mind? If you imagine a set of tasks that you must do perfectly and in the right order if you want your child to go to sleep, it’s time for a new definition.
Instead of a complicated formula, a bedtime routine is simply the things your child does each evening to prepare their mind and body for bed. These tasks don’t have to be done in the same order every night. And it’s OK to occasionally skip things.
To create a simple, flexible bedtime routine that you enjoy as much as your child, think about what has to happen before your child drifts off to sleep. Do they need to take a bath, brush their teeth, and brush their hair? Those are practical additions to your new routine.
Then, think about what you want to do to end each day well.
Do you want to tell your child a story or read a book together before bed? Or do you want to take turns sharing your favorite part of the day? Those tasks create the perfect backbone for your evening routine.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a list of your own, it can be helpful to see what other parents are doing. Let’s take a look at some simple ideas you can include in your bedtime routine.
Simple Bedtime Routine
1) Turn Off The Electronics
While mindful screen time isn’t a problem during the day, it’s not healthy for your child at night. Make it a point to shut off any screens about an hour before bed.
When you give your child a break from the blue light emitted by screens, their brain releases melatonin. Since this hormone controls your child’s sleep-wake cycle, it can help them start slowing down on their own, meaning they’ll be more ready for bed when it’s time.
If you’re used to watching a movie or scrolling on a phone together before bed, consider coming up with a new activity. Take a quick walk, play a calm game, or do a 15-minute house clean-up before you start the rest of the bedtime routine.
Another beneficial option is to incorporate some mindful quiet time, which can include yoga or simple stretches.
As long as you’re doing activities that wind your child down instead of riling them up, you can’t go wrong!
2) Enjoy A Snack
Your child won’t sleep well if they go to bed hungry. To fill up their belly with the nutrients they need, consider giving them a light, healthy bedtime snack.
Here are a few favorites:
- Toast with sunflower butter
- Apple slices and cheese
- A banana
- A granola bar
- Baby carrots with hummus
- Popcorn (if your child is old enough that it’s not a choking hazard)
Offer your child the snack before bed, but make sure they know they don’t have to eat it if they aren’t hungry.
It’s also important to know your child. When some kids eat too close to bedtime (especially anything with sugar in it), they may have an accident or wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom.
If this happens, try adjusting their bedtime routine and giving them a snack a bit earlier.
3) Wind Down With Bathtime
Having bathtime early in your child’s bedtime routine is a great way for them to relax and start calming down after a busy day. It’s also the perfect place for your child to release some of their final bits of energy as they splash and play in the warm water.
It’s best to stay in the bathroom with a bathing child, especially younger children, to make sure bathtime is safe and not too messy.
During this time together, try singing and incorporating songs with movements such as The Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Wheels on the Bus. If you want music to go along with your singing, create your own special playlist of favorites for the bath.
Help your child relax by using soaps, body washes, and shampoos with calming ingredients such as lavender. This helps them learn that bath time is when they begin getting ready for bed.
To add another calming element to bath time, toss your child’s towel in the dryer before you fill the tub. When they’re done bathing, they can wrap up in a nice, warm towel before putting on a pair of cozy jammies and hopping into bed.
4) Brush Those Teeth!
Help your child establish good dental hygiene by including a toothbrushing time in your evening routine. This can create a lifelong habit that will prevent cavities.
For babies and toddlers, you can brush their teeth for them. As they get older, ask them to try brushing on their own before you finish the job.
This encourages independence without sacrificing dental health. And once you’re confident that your child can brush independently, turn the task over to them completely.
To make this part of the evening more enjoyable, here are some simple tips:
- Let your child pick out their own toothbrush at the store
- Give your child a choice of two different toothpaste flavors
- Use a timer to ensure they brush for long enough
- Use a special cup as their “rinse” cup
- Practice brushing a toy’s teeth to teach your child how to rotate the toothbrush correctly
5) Talk It Out
Bedtime is also an opportunity to connect with your child by talking one-on-one about how they’re feeling.
Discussing the highlights of your child’s day — whether that’s the fun time you had together at the park that morning or the new friend they made at school — not only helps improve their memory but also offers pleasant feelings to drift to sleep with.
There’s something special about ending the day focusing on gratitude. If your child is old enough, you can have them write down something they’re grateful for. Then, they can go back at the end of the week and reflect on all that happened.
Discussing Difficult Emotions
While talking about the good things may feel easier, it’s also important to encourage your child to talk about other feelings. If anything difficult happened during the day, talk about it and ask them how they felt while dealing with it.
Keep in mind that reflecting on feelings can be difficult for some children. Avoid pressuring your child. They will talk when it feels right to them. HOMER’s Explore Feelings Kit can help kids identify and explain how they’re feeling to make emotions less overwhelming.
Try using this kit during the day to develop your child’s social-emotional skills, and draw on those experiences to help them reflect each night.
6) Read A Story Together
There are many benefits of reading aloud to your child, including developing the bond between the two of you. Storytime also develops their emotional skills, builds a solid foundation for future reading skills, and grows their imagination.
Make story time an engaging experience by using silly voices and pausing to ask questions. However, since you’re trying to get your child ready for bed, don’t get too rowdy. Instead, keep things calm.
To do this, save the action and adventure books for daytime reading. At bedtime, choose stories that are quiet in tone instead. Classic books or poetry are great ideas for bedtime.
Choose stories on a variety of topics that you think your child would like. This introduces your child to new genres and words, building important literary knowledge that’ll be useful when they’re older.
And don’t worry if your child wants to read the same story for what feels like the millionth time! Repetition is crucial for building vocabulary and having the familiarity of a well-loved book can help create a sense of peace and calm in your child.
You can also retell a favorite fairy tale or story orally, rather than reading a book. Oral storytelling is one way to make a favorite story special for your child.
If your child isn’t a fan of hearing stories just yet or isn’t in the mood one night, try singing simple songs, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, instead.
7) Practice Meditation
Meditation is a fantastic way to slowly switch off our minds and wind down for the day. And adding it into your child’s bedtime routine is easier than you might think.
Simply have your child lie down in bed and close their eyes. Have them place their hands on their tummy and begin to take deep breaths, feeling their tummy rise with their inhale and fall with their exhale.
By lying down in bed and focusing on their breathing, your child’s body will begin to prepare for the “rest and digest” portion of their day.
It can take some practice to feel comfortable with meditating, but many parents find this aspect of their nightly routine is key to getting their children to fall asleep easier. It’s also a technique your child can use to self-soothe if they wake up at night.
8) Have A Cuddle
Bedtime routines often don’t feel complete without goodnight kisses and cuddles!
Finish up your nightly routine with some cuddle time and a goodnight kiss. Tuck your child into bed with their favorite stuffed animal if they have one and turn out the lights, leaving a night light on if needed.
Don’t rush through this time. Your child needs your physical touch to feel safe, secure, and loved. But do keep this part of the routine calm and simple, doing your best not to let it drag on too long.
Leaving the room while your child is just beginning to drift off to sleep helps them learn to self-soothe and understand that falling asleep by themselves is safe.
9) Remind Your Child To Use The Bathroom
The final step of a bedtime routine should be to remind your child to use the bathroom before they lay down (if they haven’t already done so before bathing).
If your child needs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, their brain may attempt to wake them up with a nightmare. So, to avoid possible night frights and wet beds, ask them to use the bathroom right before they’re tucked in.
If they’re young enough to still be in diapers, be sure to change them before bed, too. Either way, keep the lights dim during this time. And then help them into bed for a good night’s sleep!
Expert Tips For A Healthy Bedtime Routine
Did you come up with a list of things you want to include in your new bedtime routine? Now it’s time to put them together and see how it all works.
You may need to do some tweaking before it’s a good fit for your family, so don’t be afraid to change things up a bit. Here are some tips to help you get your routine up and running.
1) Start From A Young Age
No matter how old your child is, it’s never too late to start implementing a calming bedtime routine that’ll make falling asleep a little bit easier.
However, starting as young as possible helps your child learn what bedtime is all about. They’ll learn to feel safe and secure as they get ready to be without you for the night.
2) Begin Before Your Child Is Exhausted
Tired kids are often grumpy. To avoid a lot of evening drama, don’t let your child stay up too late. It’s OK to tuck them in early so they can get the full night of sleep their body desperately needs.
If they’re used to staying up later, be patient with them as you help them adjust to going to bed earlier. There may be some fussing for a few nights, but your child will adapt to the new routine over time with consistency in place.
To help with any dramatic bedtime shifts, consider slowly rolling back their bedtime a little at a time each week. By shifting the time incrementally, it won’t come as such a shock to go to bed earlier.
3) Keep Your Bedtime Routine Consistent
As with many things in your young learner’s life, consistency is key when it comes to establishing and maintaining a healthy bedtime routine.
Of course, allow yourself and your child some wiggle room while you’re figuring out what does and doesn’t work for your individual needs. For example, a lullaby might work better for your family than a bedtime story — both options are OK! The key is to do what works for you.
Additionally, if you’re consistent overall, it should be fine to let a babysitter take over every once in a while so you can have a date night, time with friends, or otherwise give yourself a break.
Your child’s bedtime routine will also evolve as they grow up, so allow yourselves to alter aspects of your routine to suit each stage of your child’s development. This routine isn’t set in stone, so don’t treat it as such. If it’s not a good fit for you, it won’t work for your family.
4) Stay On Track
Keeping your nightly routine on track is key to getting your child to bed at roughly the same time each night. We recommend coming up with the number of activities you feel comfortable including and sticking to the routine as much as possible.
Letting their bedtime routine drag out with requests of — “Just one more story!” or “I need water!” — puts you at risk of losing control over your whole routine, so it’s important to set boundaries.
Choose your child’s bedtime and work backward to allow enough time for all of your bedtime activities. But don’t feel like you have to do it all. We gave you several ideas, but don’t expect you to incorporate every single one. Instead, pick your favorites and leave the rest.
If your child gets up after being put to bed for that “one more thing,” try not to react. Simply lead them back to bed, letting them know that once they’re settled, they’re not to get back up.
Stay calm, as your child takes their cues from you. If you’re getting upset, they will too.
5) Encourage Your Child To Make Some Bedtime Routine Decisions
Although your child may not be allowed to choose their own bedtime, letting them have some say in this routine can help them feel like they have ownership in their day.
While they’re still young, here are some simple ways you can let your child feel included:
- Provide two pairs of pajamas and let them pick which ones to wear
- Let your child select the bedtime story
- Ask your child if they’d like to take a bath before or after storytime
- Have your child pick a favorite stuffed toy to sleep with from their collection — they may pick a different one each night or sleep with the same one over and over
- Ask your child if they’d like to tell anyone else in the family goodnight before bed
6) Prepare A Sleep-Friendly Environment
Taking a few minutes to prepare your child’s bedroom for the bedtime routine can help. Your child can assist you with this if they’re old enough.
Here is a list of things to consider each night before tucking them in:
- How is your child’s bed? Are the sheets on it and is there an adequate amount of bedding? (If it’s going to be a cold night, consider adding an extra blanket. If it’s a hot summer night, make sure your child has a top sheet to cover up with if they get too hot under the blankets.)
- If your child played in their bed during the day, there may be toys under the covers. These can be uncomfortable and can cause your child to not sleep well. Take time to put away any toys (except for their favorite stuffed animal) before tucking them in.
- Next, think about the ambiance of the space. You want your child’s bedroom to be a safe haven that prepares them for sleep, so dim lights are usually best. If your child is scared of the dark, you can always add a small night light as well.
Speaking of ambiance, some kids prefer to fall asleep with a noise machine or quiet music. If this pertains to your child, make sure you pick soothing music that will encourage sleep.
You can also use calming scents in the room to promote relaxation. If you have a diffuser, a few drops of lavender essential oil can make the room smell nice and cozy and lull your child to sleep.
7) Keep Your Child In The Loop
If you’ve never implemented a bedtime routine before, talk to your child about it. Explain that you’re thankful for this special time you’ll get to spend together and how it will benefit them.
To help your child understand what to expect, consider creating a simple picture-based schedule for them. It can have a picture of a bath, pajamas, a book, and anything else you choose as part of your routine.
Then, you can reference this schedule as you go about the activities each night.
For example: First, we’re going to take a bath and get you nice and clean before bed. Then, we’re going to get into these warm pajamas and cuddle as we read a story. I wonder which book you’re going to pick.
This running dialogue helps your child stay focused and also provides some important vocabulary-building opportunities.
Make Bedtime A Breeze With A Simple Routine
After learning and exploring all day, your child needs a calming bedtime routine to relax and switch off their active mind.
Sticking to a bedtime routine using some or all of the tips we’ve mentioned here, bedtime can become a favorite time of day for both you and your child!
Try incorporating some of our simple routine ideas — like reading a story, having a cuddle, and including reflection time at the end of your day.
Our Explore Feelings Kit is the perfect resource to accompany this daily reflection time. Packed with activities to strengthen your child’s social-emotional skills, it helps develop their ability to identify and discuss their emotions…with a little help from HOMER, of course!