If you want to make bedtime easier, which most parents do, there are some things you need to do with your child, and there are some things that you need to avoid doing. The following is a look at the dos and don’ts of bedtime rituals:
Dos and Don’ts
Do: Decide on your bedtime rituals, whether that includes a story, song, prayers, a cuddle, or what is up to you, but you want to create a routine to follow for bedtime. One helpful suggestion is to keep things in an order that progresses the child mentally and physically towards bed. For example, start the routine in the kitchen with a snack and drink, move to the bathroom where they will bathe, brush, and use the toilet, then move to the room where they get in PJs, read a story, sing a song, and give hugs goodnight. You do not want to go back and forth, but rather move toward the bed.
Do: Be consistent with your bedtime ritual, even if the time changes, the activity, order, and sequence should not. This gives your child something to hold on to. They know that once the bath is over it is this, and then that, and then…until bed.
Do: Be flexible with your bedtime as far as timing goes. There are going to be nights when you simply are not home at bedtime. There are going to be nights when bedtime needs to be adjusted, for example, if your child misses their afternoon nap or had a long active day, moving bedtime up might be a good idea. In the same vein, consider moving it back if they had a late nap, or are not tired.
Do: Be flexible with bedtime rules if your child is sick, or is having a hard time. You can make them a little more customized to their situation, but do not throw them out completely. For example, if your toddler is throwing up during the night, you may want to let them sleep in your room, but you should still follow your normal bedtime rituals, etc.
Don’t: Don’t vary from your ritual or be inconsistent as this sends mixed messages to your child, and will not be effective for establishing an easy bedtime.
Don’t: Don’t make your bedtime ritual too elaborate. Kids always do better when you can keep it simple and easy to understand. If the routine is longer than thirty minutes, that’s too long. Really, it should be a time for winding down, but should not take up the whole evening.
Don’t: Don’t take away the bedtime ritual as a punishment. If your child does something wrong, don’t take the bedtime story away, or their song, etc. this puts a negative connotation on bedtime, as well as disrupts the effect you are going for by creating a ritual in the first place.
Don’t: Don’t threaten bed, or yell or get angry during bedtime as this reinforces the idea that bedtime is bad or something to not look forward to. Instead, make it a loving, safe, and comforting time, and something your child can look forward to, and count on. If you can do this, soon they will not dread bedtime as they do now, and will anxiously await the time they get to spend with you reading stories, singing songs, and talking about their day.
Don’t: Don’t stop bedtime rituals just because your child is getting older. The consistency of having something they count on is going to be as beneficial for a preteen and teenager as it was for a toddler. Obviously you might change it some, but do not throw it out all together.