It’s Friday night, there is a gin and tonic with your name on it in the kitchen, you can hear the bubbles popping and the ice melting. Only one thing stands between you and that gin, your reward for bargaining with, cleaning up after, feeding, entertaining and educating your child all week – and that is getting that child to sleep.
Even now, my Dad recounts the number of times he would read me a story, tuck me in, watch me close my eyes and ostensibly fall asleep, turn the light off as quietly as possible and creep down the stairs only to get half way down and hear me say (from the step behind him), ‘Can’t sweepDaddy.’ More bubbles burst; more ice melts….and you have to start the bedtime routine again.
So experts suggest the following tips for establishing a bedtime routine:
- Set a bedtime and stick to it – a child’s body clock will adjust much more quickly to a routine if that routine is followed consistently. That does mean putting your child to bed at the same time every single Any change in routine, like holidays, teething, illness, or the arrival of a new baby can cause disruption. However, being consistent will mean that your child is soon back into a bedtime routine.
- Enlist support – Explain the importance of your routine to people who may be involved in bedtime (and possibly tempted to hijack it by letting their grandchild/niece/nephew stay up a bit longer….).
- Wakey wakey– it is also important that your child gets up at about the same time every day which also helps to establish a routine.
- Day time naps & sleeps – the average 3-6 year old naps just once in the day and needs about 11-12 hours of sleep.Make sure that naps are kept short and in the middle of the day so that the child is tired by bedtime.
- Winding down – children will sleep better if they have had physical exercise in the daytime, but avoid boisterous games, screens and scary stories in the last hour before bed.
- A Quick Reminder– remind your child that bedtime is on its way to avoid any last minute battles, or pleas for ‘5 more minutes’.Running a bath, tidying toys away, or preparing a night time drink are good pointers to what will be coming next. Young children clearly can’t tell the time, but an alarm or kitchen timer can inform the most determined child that it really is getting toward bedtime.
- Relax with a warm bath -warm bath water will raise a child’s body temperature and make them feel more sleepy. It is also a chance to play and have some special one-2-one time with a parent before bedtime. Aromatic bath products can aid sleep too, but be absolutely sure that they are suitable for children before using.
- Get comfy– make sure your child is dressed in something that they will be comfortable in all night; not too loose, too tight, too warm or too cold. Natural fibres are the best at maintaining the right body temperature as they allow the body to ‘breathe’.
- Room to sleep– it is also important that children have the right sleeping environment which is cool, quiet and dark – distinctly a room to sleep in. Don’t be tempted to use bed as a punishment in the daytime as that become very confusing for a child who may already be reluctant to go to bed at night.
- Sustenance for the night -A light carbohydrate snack that includes both protein and carbohydrates can help a child get to sleep and stop any hunger in the night. A warm drink will help to make a child feel sleepy and sustain him or her through the night. Be sure to brush their teeth after snacks and drinks, and don’t be tempted to leave a child with juice or milk in a bottle in bed as prolonged exposure to sugar or milk can lead to tooth decay.
- Happy Ever After – Reading a story with a child just before bed can be one of the best moments of the day, when they are calm and relaxed and you can enjoy a shared moment of togetherness with a favourite book . However, manage expectations by agreeing the number of books/chapters or pages that you will read and don’t be tempted to give into ‘just one more’.
- Thumb sucking – of course if they are trying to stop thumb sucking then reading our book Thumbs up for Ted’s Thumbsie before going to bed and choosing their favourite Thumbsie thumb guard to pop on for the night is important to be part of establishing a bedtime routine.
- A quick kiss goodnight in bed and then leave the room with confidence and without fuss. Try not to go back in if your child calls for you. Children are quick to learn how to ‘train’ parents and will have you dashing back in and out all night if they think that they can avoid sleeping, or being alone that way. Although that may sound tough, you will know if something is really wrong and of course be ready to resolve it. If your child is scared, then leave a light on outside or use a nightlight in their room.
If your child continues to experience sleep difficulties, it may be worth consulting an expert in case they have a sleep disorder. Routine and consistency are the key and although it may be tough for a few days, and occasionally get derailed, a bedtime routine will soon pay off. After all, you will know exactly when to have that gin ready so the ice doesn’t’t melt!