When I was five, I vividly remember hating the words "nap" and "bedtime." Why would I want to stop playing with my friends to go lay down in a dark room? That sounded like a terrible idea.
I could be falling asleep in the middle of my tea party but still protest the idea of sleeping on purpose. And yet, every single day it still happened.
Bedtime always came, no matter how hard I fought it.
Funny enough, my son shared the same posture on sleep that I once did (along with every other child in the world). And even though he knew bedtime was coming, you would never have known it by his reaction each night.
So how do we teach our children to love sleep and all its gloriousness? The funny thing is, they already do—they just don't realize it.
While your little one might never frolic off to bed, there is something that can help make the process easier for the entire family: a bedtime routine.
This might seem fairly obvious, and whether you have a current routine in place or not, this is for you mama—I want to help you get your evenings back.
It may not seem like it, but your child actually wants routine. Having a consistent practice each night gives her security, structure and something to look forward to. And it is a key ingredient in promoting healthy sleep habits.
Each family is going to have an individualized approach at bedtime, and I encourage you to focus on what fits with your family dynamic best.
At the same time, there are several factors to keep in mind to help keep the bedtime process simple and effective when creating or refining your child's routine:
1) Finding the right time makes a huge difference.
We all know some of the signs our child shows when she is overtired. Crying, whining, a sudden increase in energy—basically anything except muttering the words, "I'm tired."
The key is setting a bedtime according to her natural sleep cycle, and well before she reaches the exhaustion stage. I generally recommend a bedtime between 6pm-7pm for toddlers, and 7pm-8pm for children ages six and older.
2) KISM—Keep it simple mama!
Our children have a way of captivating us with their cuteness, and before you know it, you are playing dress up and reading 10 books two hours after bedtime. Try to spend a maximum of 30 minutes with your child when getting ready for bed, and communicate that as often as possible in order to set and enforce the boundary when she (inevitably) tries to push it. Something like: pajamas, brush teeth, five minutes of snuggles, prayers, lights out.
3) Make it a family event.
Your child is much less likely to be happy with bedtime if she feels she is missing out on all the fun. If possible, plan evening activities after the kiddos are all in bed. Don't start your child's favorite movie unless you have adequate time to finish it. And try to get the entire family involved, even if there are other members of the family who go to bed later.
4) Give her options.
"Do you want to read Thomas the Train, or The Fish in the Sea?" If your child is anything like mine, we would be there all night if I asked,"What book do you want to read?" This also works with different toothbrushes, pajamas, loveys, etc.
5) Consistency is key.
This principle applies to most anything sleep related, and especially in this case. A routine isn't really a routine unless it is followed consistently. Not only will your child look forward to it, she will need it in order to feel well rested.
Of course, there will be the occasional family night out that stretches bedtime, but if you follow the routine at least 80%of the time, it will help give your child a strong sleep foundation.
6) Anticipate and plan for the bedtime “asks.”
Isn't it true that bedtime is also suddenly when your child becomes severely dehydrated and needs all sorts of other things? You've got to appreciate their persistence and creativity, but anticipating these needs ahead of time and addressing them can help with the constant asking of questions at bedtime.
Bedtime doesn't have to be a dreaded process.
As a parent, there was a time I feared bedtime as much or more than my child, but today I look forward to the quality time with my kiddo, and I feel good that I'm setting him up for a solid night of rest!
Rachel is a certified infant and Toddler Sleep Specialist and Motherly’s Sales Partnerships Manager. She is passionate about educating families on the importance of rest and providing the encouragement to overcome sleep challenges. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and children. Follow her on Instagram.