How to Create a Successful Bedtime Routine for your Children

A bedtime routine, when used every day, becomes a nightly ritual that relaxes not just your tired child, but you as well.  When everyone knows what to expect, the chores fade into the background and bedtime becomes a daily opportunity for a few minutes of quality time. A bedtime routine satisfies a child’s need for structure and stability; it makes them feel safe.  

Your child’s bedtime routine doesn’t need to follow an exact formula.  Do what you love most of all, but take care of necessities like brushing the teeth and hair, and washing the face beforehand. Your routine does need to be consistent.  When you say, “It’s time to get ready for bed,” your child will quickly learn what to begin with, which activity follows, and the order and duration of each.

The bedtime routine should be a predictable, dependable pattern of what everyone needs to do, for example:  first brush the teeth, mom checks them, put on the pajamas, dad reads a story, then a tuck-in, and finally a kiss and a song. Bedtime routines vary by family. Some involve a bath and a review of the day, some may include a family snuggle in mom and dad’s bed, whatever it is, it needs to include something pleasant and enjoyable for your child, something to look forward to.

At first, when your child learns they will get to read a story or get a snuggle, or whatever it is they love the most, every night, they will clamor for it. They will want to do it first and then they will beg for more. It really is best to save that special bedtime treat for last. It is the dessert they get for taking care of all of their nighttime needs. It’s easy to get suckered into extra stories or songs, and there will be a time and place for “extra,” but for the most part, gently remind your child how many stories you always read, or songs you sing. 

Once your child learns the bedtime routine, your job becomes that of an overseer rather than a task master. Your child will automatically brush her teeth, but your job is no longer one of coercing her to do it, but to ensure she did a good job. Children like their parents to check on their work, whether that work is a drawing, the bed they made all by themselves, or their freshly brushed teeth. 

Don’t confuse your child’s routine with a schedule. It’s nice to start every night at the exact same time, but if dinner runs late or you have to be out in town later than expected you’ll still need to let your routine runs its usual course. For example, if you feel that your child has to be in bed by 7:30 pm firm, but you walk through the door at 7:15 pm, and try to rush and cram everything into 15 minutes or less, when your child is accustomed to a peaceful 20 minute bedtime routine, you’re liable to initiate a meltdown. It’s better to let them stay up a little beyond their usual bedtime to preserve the routine.

A bedtime routine provides the perfect segue for seasonal time changes, too.  You can begin preparing your child for the time change by starting their routine 15 minutes earlier or later every couple of days over a period of a week or two.   When that hour leap arrives your child will breeze through it.  If you miss the opportunity to ease your child into a new bedtime before hand, you can always do so afterward. Either way, you can all enjoy a stress-free transitional period.

Enjoy the bedtime routine with your child. It’s supposed to be relaxing for you both, remember? Chat about your day or tell a joke while your kiddo puts on her pajamas. Take a few minutes to soak in their smallness and vulnerability and notice how they look at you. Without the hustle and bustle of our busy lives or a nightly power struggle interfering and distracting our attention, the bedtime routine offers a few precious moments to help busy families reconnect and reinforce loving bonds.