EXPERT Q&A

How can I create a successful bedtime routine for my children?

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is important to your children’s quality of sleep–and to their overall wellbeing. For parents struggling to find a bedtime routine that works for their kids, here are several tips and ideas from CareNectar expert Shenley Seabrook.

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Question

I have two children—ages 2 and 4—and I struggle to get them to sleep every night. They don’t want to go to bed, and as soon as their heads hit their pillows, they fight sleep. What suggestions do you have to create a peaceful night routine?

Answer

I can empathize with this completely. My daughter seemed like she hated sleep until she turned 3 years old. Until then, she hadn’t slept more than six consecutive hours in her entire life. Talk about exhausting!

Here are a few changes we made to our routine that seemed to help her fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly throughout the night.

  1. No electronics after 6:00 p.m. This meant no TV, iPad, or FaceTiming with Grandma. Any of those activities needed to be done several hours before bedtime. We were very strict with this and it helped immensely.
  2. Nightly reading. We allow our kids to choose from 1 to 3 books, depending on length, that we read with the lights dim and the sound machine already on. This way they understand that sleep is coming soon after the books are done. And this also helps build their reading skills!
  3. Sing a bedtime song. Our toddler has a few favorite songs she likes to hear before she falls asleep, and I’ve been singing her those same songs every night since she can remember. Singing helps her feel comfortable and that helps her fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
  4. Cut out chatter. This might sound a little mean, but once we’ve given our hugs and kisses and said all of our “I love yous”, I encourage my kids to turn off their voices. No more asking for a glass of water they don’t need, a second blanket, or a fifteenth stuffed animal for our older kids. We’ve realize that these tend to be stalling tactics, so now they are gently discouraged with a reminder of “You have everything you need to sleep. We will talk more in the morning”.
  5. Implement the Bedtime Ticket System. This ticket system helps keep young children from getting out of bed to ask for things. Learn more here.

Once you’ve established a solid bedtime routine, you might want to consider a few more changes to help with their overall sleep quality. Three suggestions for improving your children’s bedtime experience are detailed here.

  • Blackout curtains. First off, invest in some blackout curtains. These were game-changing in our house. I’m not sure why, but I put off buying them for the first few years because I felt like they wouldn’t make much of a difference. But even blocking out the extra light from the neighbor’s porch lights was helpful.
  • Sound machine. You might also consider using a sound machine. We had to play around with different settings on the sound machine before we found what worked best for our child, but once we found that she slept best with the white noise on the loudest setting, we haven’t changed it since.
  • Physical activity. Check your kids’ physical activity levels.  Sometimes toddlers have a tough time falling asleep at night because they haven’t had enough opportunities to move their bodies throughout the day. Toddlers should be physically active for at least 3 hours a day. Yes, I know you are exhausted just reading that, but it’s true. If you’re like me and don’t always have the energy to engage in all 3 hours of physical activity with them, try to find ways they can be physical on their own while you supervise. Some of my favorite ways to get my little ones active is setting up obstacle courses, letting them watch activity shows like GoNoodle or The Floor Is Lava, and getting them outside to play games like Freeze Tag or soccer.  The more they are active and (preferably) outside during the day, the more likely they are to get a restful night’s sleep later on.

We hope this helps, and remember, we are here for you!

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Meet The Expert


Shenley Seabrook

Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.