Sometimes clients ask me what should be part of a bedtime routine, and the answer really is whatever feels right to you and works for your child. Elements of a bedtime routine should keep your child calm, and preferably lights should be low. So here are some common bedtime elements and my thoughts on them, as well as a few that may not be so common.
Bath – I know most books say to include a bath as part of your bedtime routine, but you really do not need to. I almost never see children who are calmed by a bath, plus the bright lights that are normally in a bathroom, are not really conducive to sleep. I understand that most parents do want a clean child in the evening, but there is nothing wrong with doing a bath right after dinner, or even before dinner if your child is not a messy eater. If your child is calmed by the bath, then by all means, keep it as part of your routine. If you can, keep the lights low in the bathroom as darkness signals our body to produce melatonin, a calming hormone which helps us fall asleep.
Books – Another thing most books recommend is reading to your child. I definitely recommend this as not only is it a calm activity, but it can also increase your child’s vocabulary which is important to strong reading and writing skills
“When you read aloud to your child, you are not only helping to prepare her to learn to read, you are also exposing her to rich language she otherwise might not hear. Reading will help her become familiar with new words and a different language structure, as the form and feel of written language is quite different from spoken language.”
Now what if you have a squirmy toddler or 6 month old who cannot be bothered to sit long enough to listen to any story? I would keep trying to read to them, but it does not have to be at bedtime. Remember, you want all bedtime activities to be calm and relaxing. Trying to wrangle a toddler so that they will listen to a story they do not want to is not calm or relaxing for anyone. So keep trying different books during the day – you may find one they are really interested in that you can add to your bedtime routine.
Singing – A lot of children love to hear the sound of their parents’ voices singing a song. Even if you think you cannot sing (and I KNOW I can’t!), your child doesn’t care. I have seen children stop crying to listen to their parents sing. So if you or your child does not like books as part of their routine, singing could be a great alternative. You can sit and rock with them to calm them down before putting them in bed and sing a song. You can make up your own songs, children love songs about themselves or other aspects of their lives (like pets). I had a client sing a song about thunder to calm their child during a thunderstorm. Be creative and have fun!
Discussions – For older children, sitting down and having conversations with them before bed can be helpful, especially if you did not have time earlier in the day. Try having children tell you their favorite two things about their day and one thing they did not like about the day. Or, try what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks – Have your child tell you several things they are thankful for. I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks now and it does help me fall asleep because I think about positive things and do not start thinking about what I have to do the next day or what I forgot to do that day. I feel like I’ve been sleeping better too. So you should try it as well!
And Some Things Not to Have as Part of Your Bedtime Routine
- Roughhousing or any other kind of play that works your child up (When we sleep at night, our body temperature decreases, when we roughhouse, our body temperature increases and then our body has to work harder decreasing our temperature so our sleep is not as restorative.)
- Electronics (The light from tvs, tablets, and other electronic devices inhibits our bodies from creating melatonin, a calming hormone that helps us fall asleep)
- Anything that stresses you or your child out (Try to keep bedtime as stress-free as possible.)
Do you have other suggestions on good bedtime activities? I’d love to hear them!