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The Art of Bedtime Routines

If your household is anything like our household, then your household thrives on repeating solid routines to make things run smoothly.  In fact, all the research suggests that bedtime routines work best if you reserve the hour before bedtime for quiet play. It lowers your child’s activity level and prepare his nervous system for relaxation. Roughhousing, running, playing tickling games, and even watching action-packed TV shows or videos make peaceful transition to sleep especially difficult. Here are just a few of our “musts” when it comes to bedtime:

    • Set a specific time and stick to it. Your child’s body clock will adjust much more quickly to the routine if the routine follows a natural and consistent pattern.
    • Give a warning. Just before bedtime, give your child advance notice that the day is winding down. Your child may be too young to judge time yet, so saying something like “five more minutes” is not likely to be understood. Instead teach your child by association. Begin the first part of your routine — running the bath water, putting the toys away, or however your particular routine begins to signal the start of the wind down. Some parents signal impending bedtime with the ringing of a kitchen timer for five minutes; the child learns that the sound means bedtime. This allows an impersonal third party to announce bedtime and reduces the desire to complain, since even a toddler knows that you can’t argue with a machine.
    • Offer a snack. A light snack that includes both protein and carbohydrates — for example, a small piece of cheese and one half slice of whole-wheat bread — will induce sleep and help her stay asleep through the night. The carbohydrates make her sleepy, and the protein will help keep her blood sugar level on an even keel until breakfast. Be sure to brush her teeth after she eats.
    • Give your child a warm bath. By raising your baby’s body temperature slightly, you’ll make him more prone to sleepiness. Also, playing with his bath toys allows him to relax.
    • Get dressed for bed. Choose comfortable, non-binding pajamas, that are neither too warm nor too light.
    • Read a favorite story to your child. This is a particularly comforting routine for your toddler, particularly if it’s a favorite story that’s associated with bedtime, such as “Goodnight Moon.”
    • Make sure your child has a friend to sleep with. A favorite doll or teddy bear provides comfort. Our girls LOVE sleeping with stuffed animals so they are allowed to choose 5 to sleep with each night. That is something you could adjust for what fits with your child’s age and your comfort level.
    • Limit or eliminate bottles. If your child needs a bottle to fall asleep, make sure it contains only water. Milk, formula, or juice can pool around her teeth causing cavities, even in infants.
    • Keep last “goodnights” brief. Say “goodnight” when it’s time for you to leave the room and try not to come back if your child calls for you. This sounds harsh, but if you keep coming into the room you will have taught your child that “If I call to Mommy, she’ll come back.” Kids learn how to “condition” parents very quickly! Any hesitations on our part may be picked up by your child as an indication that maybe you really aren’t serious about this bedtime business and if she yells loudly enough you’ll come back and play some more.

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