When a child is unable to sleep or is not in a good sleep routine it has an effect on the whole family and can impact on behaviour during the day if everyone is tired. We’ve put together some tips for establishing a bedtime routine and getting children into good sleeping habits.
All children are different. Some will sleep anywhere and everywhere and others will approach sleep as an enemy and will fight it at all costs. The key is to understand what works for your child and incorporate this into your routine. Some children need hot milk, others need fresh air/exercise during the day. If sleep is an issue for your child, start making a diary to look for triggers to a poor night’s sleep and to identify anything that helps support sleep for your child. You will usually find there is a pattern.
The idea of a bedtime routine is that it’s just that: a routine. It needs to be consistent and the same each day to allow your child to understand what happens at bedtime and for them to feel relaxed enough to drift off to sleep. Give your child a reminder at each stage of your routine, such as “after we have a bath we clean our teeth” and “once we’ve cleaned our teeth we put our pyjamas on”. This will also help them to remember what happens at bedtime. Visual routines with the steps written up with pictures can also help. Establish a set time each evening that you want your child to be asleep by. Remember that they won’t necessarily fall asleep as soon as they are in bed so factor in time in bed preparing to sleep. This could be time reading a story or talking about their day. Whilst they’re in bed keep the lights low to support a calm atmosphere. If you have more than one child, stagger bedtimes so that they can each benefit from your time before bed.
Encourage calm activities before bed, such as quiet play, a warm bath, and reading a bedtime story, rather than active play. Remember that not all children will recognise when they are tired or feel sleepy, so sometimes we need to help get them towards a sleep state by winding them down and creating a calm sleep-inducing environment. Bedtime needs to be relaxing and quiet so try to limit other activity in the house around this time. A warm bath before bed will also help children to start relaxing and get ready for sleep.
If your child struggles with following the routine use rewards/incentives to help them follow it. For example, if your child refuses to put their pyjamas on every evening, create a reward chart so that they can earn stickers every time they follow your instruction and put their pyjamas on. Small rewards, such as staying up an extra 20 minutes at the weekend, are free and can be good incentives for children to follow instructions. Once your child is earning lots of stickers you can focus the chart on another aspect of bedtime.
If you are stressed by bedtime and feel anxious about trying to get your child to sleep, the chances are your child will pick up on this and it won’t help the situation. Getting into a routine takes time and if your child is a difficult sleeper things won’t change straight away. Keep at it and review progress: things will improve.
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