Establish a bedtime routine
Young children respond well to routines at home and in their educational settings. It is no different at bedtime; children need a routine to ensure they have an adequate amount of calm-down time before going to bed.
Some things to be included in the bedtime routine are bath time, listening to relaxing music, changing into pyjamas, brushing teeth and story time.
Ensure you allow for wind-down time
Wind-down time is the time before the bedtime routine begins. It is recommended that you initiate wind-down time for your child around 20 minutes before starting the bedtime routine.
During wind-down time you can help prepare your child to feel ready to go to bed by turning off the TV and any electronics in the house. It is important to note that for an optimal chance for a good night’s sleep, electronics such as tablets and mobile phones should also be removed from your child’s bedroom before they enter at bedtime.
Bright screens on electronics can trick the brain into staying awake and alert, as the body is made to feel like it is still daytime. Furthermore, if a child can hear the TV or music from their bedroom, they are less likely to be able to fall asleep and more likely to want to join their parents in staying awake.
Try to avoid giving your child food too close to bedtime. If they are likely to feel hungry before going to bed, try giving them a glass of warm milk and a small piece of fruit. Also, make sure they have a small cup of water next to their bed in case they are thirsty during the night.
Also as part of the wind-down time, make sure any loud music is turned down or switched off. Dim the lights in the house and even try to slow down your movements so that you walk with less haste and talk in softer tones. These activities prepare your child to start relaxing into their bedtime routine.
Make the bedroom a safe and peaceful place
It is vital that your child feels safe, secure and comfortable in their bedroom to ensure a sleep-inducing environment.
Make sure their room is cool or warm enough and dark. If your child prefers not to sleep in complete darkness, provide them with a small night-light, or leave their bedroom door slightly open. This will also help them feel safe as they would know that they can be reached easily.
Your child might want to go bed with their favourite soft toy to provide comfort through the night.
Some children prefer not to sleep in silence. If this is the case, try installing a fan or turning on some quiet relaxing music; often instrumental music can help with relaxation as children aren’t tempted to try and sing along to lyrics.
Help your child to self-soothe
It can be very distressing for parents to hear their child upset or calling for them during the night and many people make the mistake of going immediately to the child’s room. If a child calls out repeatedly during the night and an adult responds every time, it is likely that this will become routine for the child; after all, they will be getting lots of attention. This means the child is unlikely to have a good night’s sleep, and additionally, the parents will not have time to relax.
If your child keeps calling for you during the night, and you are sure that there isn’t a real problem, try leaving them to see if they can go back to sleep by themselves. If they call out again, go back to their room to ensure everything is ok, and limit the contact you give them, giving them a gentle, reassuring tap.
“Try to stay calm during the bedtime routine and this should help to ensure not only your child sleeps well but you do too”
Refrain from giving hugs and kisses and engaging in conversation, as this attention isn’t helpful with getting your child to sleep; adversely it is encouraging them to call out more. Leave an increasingly longer pause every time before returning to the room and continue to reduce the amount of physical contact. With time, your child will start to learn strategies to self-soothe. Of course, if your child is having nightmares or is genuinely distressed, go to them immediately and talk to them until they feel comfortable and safe.
There are many factors that can affect a good night’s sleep for children and, of course, there will always be times when your child finds it difficult to sleep or when they wake up during the night. But in providing a good bedtime routine and a calm and peaceful environment in their bedroom, you are creating an enabling environment conducive to helping your child achieve a healthy amount of sleep.
Remember, children will sense if their parents are in a hurry or stressed. Try to stay calm during the bedtime routine and this should help to ensure not only your child sleeps well but you do too.
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