You can achieve this by keeping to a consistent sequence of events every night, and adapt the routine as they grow. Start sleep training your child as early as 4 – 6 months old. You can choose to have a quick and easy bedtime, or enjoy a longer one-on-one time with your child for reading and snuggling. By establishing a fixed bedtime routine, it will benefit both of you for years to come.
Here are 7 easy steps to follow to develop an effective bedtime routine.
- Stick to a specific time frame
Develop good sleeping habits by keeping to a fixed bedtime. You will need to decide on the time you want your child to be in bed, and start the routine about an hour before. This gives you and your child time to prepare. After dinner, engage your child in quiet activities — you do not want to deal with a hyped-up child at bedtime! For babies, you could play some calming music, and for toddlers, you could have them play with puzzles, or pack away their toys. Be sure to follow the same order each night as this lets your child identify the cues and anticipate the activities leading up to bedtime.
- Nice and clean
A great way to calm your child before bedtime is a nice warm bath. Not only will this relax your child, but it is also a way to wash away the day of play and ensure that your child goes to bed clean. There are body washes infused with chamomile or lavender that work wonders in calming your child, and even you! During bath time, bond with your child over the day’s activities. It is a nice way to sum up the day.
After the bath, dress your child in comfortable pyjamas, or better yet, let your child choose his or her favourite pyjamas! Make sure it isn’t too loose or tight fitting, and that the material is soft and breathable.
- No bottles
Avoid letting your child drink from a bottle to sleep. This may cause teeth cavities in the long run. Let your toddler brush his or her teeth before getting into bed. Brushing teeth can also be a part of the bedtime routine. If it is really necessary for your child to have a bottle at bedtime, let him or her drink water instead. Remember, having a child drink from a bottle to sleep is not exactly sleep training!
- Cuddly comfort
Let your child bring a cuddly friend to bed. Soft toys or a favourite pillow or bolster can provide comfort for your child. If your child has too many soft toys to choose from, get him or her to select a different one each night. This is something your child will be able to look forward to the next night. For younger babies, it is still best to avoid soft toys in bed; instead you could let them have a soft blanket to hug, or a cosy sleeping bag to snuggle into.
- Story time
The highlight of any bedtime routine is story time! If your child has a favourite book, this is the best time to read it. If you are wondering what is a good book to read to your baby, a popular classic is “Goodnight Moon” which has a rhythmic and comforting theme about bedtime. Whatever book you read, it is a special time to cuddle up with your little one. Your child will surely love this part of the night best, so enjoy the moment together. You can choose to read the same book every night or have a different story each time.
Another way to set the mood is to play soothing music in the background if you wish. Nature-inspired or instrumental tracks are recommended.
- Keep it short
Now comes the important part of sleep training, and that is to say goodnight and leave the room. If you stay in the room and wait for your child to fall asleep, it is not giving your child the right message i.e., it is time to fall asleep on his or her own. Keep the last ‘goodnight’ short and sweet — do not drag it out. Just say that it is time to sleep, give a last kiss and cuddle, then say ‘goodnight’ and leave the room. You can leave the door slightly ajar so you can check in on your child. If your child is afraid of being alone in the dark, try leaving a night light on.
- Stand your ground
Once you leave the room, your child may call out to you. Even if you feel bad, resist the urge to go back in. If you do, your child will just keep calling for you after that, expecting you to keep coming back in. Children will learn to manipulate the situation if you give in once, so you need to remain firm.
Some children may cry, so you will need to gauge how serious the crying is and whether or not to intervene. If your child cries very badly, try this approach instead: Go in and reassure him or her that there’s nothing to be afraid of, give a hug, then say firmly that it’s time to sleep. Leave the room. If your little one continues crying, do not go in immediately. Wait for 10 minutes, then go in if your child is still crying badly. If this keeps happening, double the time before going back in, i.e., 10, 20, then 40 minutes. Refrain from hugging your child and say that it’s time to sleep. Gradually shorten the amount of time you stay inside, till you are only entering to say ‘time to sleep’ then leave the room. Eventually your child will get the idea and fall asleep.
Sleep training your child will be a challenging process that takes a few days, but do not give up! Stay resolute and soon you and your child will triumph over this milestone.