It can seem that just when children should be winding down ready for bed they become louder and more energised. Here are some tips to take them from this fast gear into bedtime and sleep.
Stick to a routine
Not everyone can maintain the same bedtimes every day, especially if there is more than one child to consider, but at least try to do the same things in the same order each night. This will allow your child to know what is going to happen next and it creates a sense of rhythm that will help them to relax.
Try using this chart to tick off each activity as you do it. Draw a smiley face in each box as you complete the task. If the child is old enough to understand, you could reward them at the end of the week if they have had good bedtimes every night – you could read them an extra story or promise to do an activity with them the next day as a reward.
Steps to bedtime
- Start the bedtime routine slightly earlier than you’d think – it can take a while to get everyone settled. This will help you to get your child into their pyjamas before they become too tired.
- Give a warning: ‘It’s going to be bedtime soon. This is our last activity before bath time.’ Continue to give warnings throughout the routine announcing the step that is coming next and how long they have. Praise any good behaviour e.g. if the child comes straight away when asked.
- Give yourself over to the process. Try to focus on your child and don’t let other distractions take over. The more attention you give them, the easier it will be.
- Create a sense of calm by playing a quiet game together or watching a favourite programme. If you are watching TV together make it clear that they are only getting one programme to watch.
- Run a bath and encourage your child to have some fun doing water play as well as getting clean. If you don’t have any bath toys they can use a few plastic cups from the kitchen to practise pouring. Note that you can miss this step sometimes – children don’t have to have a bath every day if you are short on time or if your child is very tired.
- Dry your child and get them into their pyjamas.
- Give them a cup of water or milk, if they have that at bedtime.
- Brush their teeth.
- Ask them to choose a book or two for you to read together at bedtime.
- Sing a song to help your child relax and/or talk about the day. Young children love to hear back the story of what they’ve been doing that day and it helps them to learn new vocabulary whilst you describe their activities. Even if you just talk about breakfast, they will love it.
- Give them kisses and hugs and say good night. Leave them with a special toy to keep them company.
- If your child tries to get up for one last kiss, cup of water or trip to the bathroom, keep it brief and make it clear that it’s bedtime and that fun is over for today.
- Ensure the room is cool (not cold) and dark. You can use a dim night-light or leave a landing light on if they don’t like the dark.
Be a team
If you are trying a new routine, make sure that other adults are on board so that you don’t undermine each other by someone agreeing to your child having one more story or programme if that isn’t the plan.
Other top tips
- Think about how much physical activity your child is getting in the day – make sure they are tired out by bedtime. Try to ensure they get outside for a run around every day.
- Watch out for naps. Children drop their lunchtime naps some time between 2-5 years old. If they are on the cusp of doing this they might be not tired enough at bedtime so you may need to transition to stopping daytime napping.
- Stick to the bedtime routine as much as you can. If you allow a later bedtime occasionally, say at weekends or on holiday, try to revert to your normal routine as soon as possible. Consistency is key.
- If you have more than one child you might find it easier to split them up and deal with one at a time, putting the most tired child to bed first. If you can separate them, it’s easier to get one calm and then the other. Some people let one look at a book or programme whilst they put the first one down before following on with the next one.
Be easy on yourself
Finally, don’t worry if you don’t find yourself with a smooth bedtime routine straightaway – keep trying and think about what small changes would help your child and situation. You may have to adjust your approach depending on whether you have help at bedtime, more than one child and so on. Use the tips above to think about how to approach bedtime so it can be a peaceful end of the day for everyone.
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