The bedtime routine can be a struggle for most parents. Kids are great at postponing the inevitable—they want another drink of water, cry, scream, want another drink of water, throw a tantrum, need a snack, want another drink of water—you know it all too well.
Kids are amazing at pulling our hairs out at bedtime.
The bedtime struggle is one that every parent deals with during the life cycle of parenting. This struggle is genuine if you are a parent of a 2-6-year-old. Children at this age do not want to go to bed. They want to stay up and play!
To children, they see bedtime as a bad thing—they don’t understand that sleeping is essential to their well-being and growth.
Once bedtime has come, the battle begins. You might not be able to win this battle until later on in life fully. But there are things you can do to minimize the bedtime nightmare!
The solution? A well-crafted routine.
What is a Bedtime Routine?
In simple terms, a bedtime routine is a sequence of actions that regularly occur to help your child create a habit of going to bed.
It includes every action that leads up to and culminates in your child laying down and drifting off to sleep. For children, taking these actions each night is vital to create a proper habit. That habit will help them go to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed and happy.
A well-crafted bedtime routine will give you several significant benefits:
- Your child will feel ready to sleep.
- Your child will then sleep more consistently at night.
- The habit will help them wind down invariably, night after night.
- It also creates healthy interactions between parent and child.
I highlighted a crucial principle in the bullet-point list above: wind down. The reason a well-crafted bedtime routine works is because it will help your child wind down properly, feeling ready to go to sleep.
The Winding Down Principle
I’m not sure if anyone has coined the Winding Down Principle, so I’m claiming it until someone tells me otherwise.
As a young dad, I know first-hand the value of a routine. I also have learned that bedtime routines are not created equal. Some portions of the bedtime routine stimulate a child’s brain and make them more awake. Others relax their brain and make them more sleepy.
Thus, the winding down principle—the secret to a great bedtime routine.
In effect, you need to structure your sleep time routine based on activities that don’t wake up a child and those that do make them sleepy.
Let me give you a few quick examples:
- Taking a warm bath is more soothing than a parent sticking a prodding stick—toothbrush—into your mouth.
- Telling a story (without images) as you get tucked into bed is more soothing than reading a book with pictures that naturally stimulates the brain.
“But, Jacob,” you might say, “Reading a book is also soothing and helps my child fall asleep!”
You are right! Reading a book can be soothing, but only if it’s in the routine’s right order.
See, what we are trying to do is walk our child, hand-in-hand, down the road from wide awake to sleep. This walk takes time.
Some parents feel that they can have their children go from playing to bedtime all in the span of 15-minutes. For some kids, that might be possible; however, for most, the winding down process takes time, sometimes up to 60 minutes or longer.
That’s why I believe in structuring your routine based on this Winding Down Principle. At the end of the process, your child will be much more ready for sleep.
So what exactly should be a part of this routine, and in what order?
7 Steps to a Perfect Bedtime Routine (Based on the Winding Down Principle)
Get in the Right Mindset—It’s Their Time Now!
A step before all other steps! You need to get in the right mindset. Once you start the bedtime routine, you need to give your undivided attention—it’s their time now. For the next 45-60 minutes, your only job is to bond with your children through this routine.
Many kids throw fits at the end of the day because they do not get enough parent bonding time. They might be yearning for more quality time and are afraid of not getting it at bedtime.
Keep in mind that not all time is quality, especially when it comes to technology use. I can be interacting with my kids in the bath but still scroll through my Instagram feed. That’s not quality time.
Kids yearn for undivided attention and time. Make sure they have plenty of it.
Step 1 – Clean Up Their Room/the House
I know in my family, we start by having our kids clean up their rooms. Since all of their toys end up in the family room, kitchen, on top of the washer and dryer—we have them help us clean up the entire house.
We love playing a game called, The Daddy Monster. They only have so much time before The Daddy Monster—me with a deep, scary voice—comes out to eat all the toys that are left out. If I get any toys, the kids know that I get to keep them for a day. They typically will quickly clean up the entire house with this game.
Cleaning is not a soothing activity in any way; however, cleaning up is the start of the bedtime process. By making cleaning a habit, it signifies what is to come.
Step 2 – Brush Teeth
Next, we head to the bathroom. If my kids are taking a bath, we brush their teeth before they get into the tub. When my wife or I stick a prodding stick—I mean, toothbrush—into their mouths, it can be a jarring experience for them. They don’t like it, which is why we complete this step before bath time.
Optional Step: Take a Bath
If it’s bath day, then now is the time for them to enjoy a warm bath. Bath time can still be fun, with toys and splashing. The warm water by itself soothes their bodies and minds and gets them in the mood for getting sleepy.
Step 3 – Put on Pajamas
Next, put on their pajamas. My youngest daughter loves her “J’s,” as she calls them. It’s what she looks forward to. We put them on right away after a bath or brushing teeth so that they can further get in the mindset of going to bed.
Step 4 – Read Books for 10 Minutes
Now it’s time to read books for ten minutes. Reading books and telling stories (Step 5) are critical to helping your child develop. They also are lovely at calming a child down for the night.
My wife and I have found that reading for at least ten solid minutes is good at calming our energetic children. Just because we are trying to get them to fall asleep doesn’t mean we can’t still be animated and make it engaging.
The act of hearing our voice read to them is what soothes them. Many other reading benefits that could be discussed here, so if you aren’t doing this, you should!
Step 5 – Tuck Them in with a Story
While telling a story is only step #5, I believe it is the most vital step. Reading books with images is a natural stimulant to the brain. Our brains love seeing and looking at things. After a book reading session, it is vital to push their minds towards sleepy wonderland further. We do this through storytelling.
I’ve outlined ten specific reasons why storytelling is the most important ten minutes of your day here. There are some fantastic benefits, but the most significant benefit is the soothing nature of the activity.
As you are tucking them into bed, you need to tell them a story. You could tell them a traditional bedtime story, one you have created on your own, or an original story from Story Tyke (shameless plug at the bottom).
They will interact with you during these stories, but by laying down and listening to your voice (a comforting thing to them), you are gearing them up to fall asleep.
Step 6 – Soothing Music or White Noise
Now that they are in bed, all tucked up and warm; it’s time to put on some soothing music, white noise, or even an audiobook if that’s their thing.
Make sure to turn off the lights, so they know that it’s bedtime. If you have done all of these steps above, they will be calmer than they would have been without going through this process. The soft music or white noise will further push them down that path towards sleep.
Step 7 – Be Strict About Walking Away
Lastly, it would be best to be more strict about walking away after the routine is complete. I remember my first daughter always screaming after we had left the room. As a parent, those screams or cries are painful to hear.
As a young father, I instinctively would go back in to comfort her. But she was smart and quickly used my naive “I’ll save you” instinct to her advantage.
You have to break that cycle.
Once the routine is done, it’s done. Kiss, cuddles, hugs, finish up and walk away. Unless the house is on fire, you should not be going back into their room even if they are screaming their life away.
Kids are smart. If you go a week or so of them crying themselves to sleep after the excellent bedtime routine you just completed, they will start to figure it out.
My wife and I eventually had just to let our daughter cry it out. We used ear-plugs at night because it was so painful to listen to— not because it was loud, but rather because I hated hearing my daughter cry. As a parent who cares, it hurts. But after a week or so, she stopped throwing a fit and figured it out.
And each morning, she still woke up happy and gave us a big smile when we came in to get her.
For some of you, the idea of letting them cry themselves to sleep is not an option. I understand that. This part of the routine might look a bit different for you and your family. But if you are willing to give it a try, I promise they will be there in the morning, happy as ever to see you.
I hope you have found this step-by-step bedtime routine valuable. The Winding Down Principle is a real thing, and by structuring your routine to help your child get more and more sleepy, you will ultimately have sleeping children at the end of the process.
Your routine might look a little different. You might have fewer steps—not a bath night, maybe they don’t like books, etc. You also might have more steps—saying a family prayer or other activities. That’s just fine, but you need to structure those activities in a winding-down way.
Now for my shameless plug!
I said earlier that storytelling is the essential part of this routine or at least one of the most critical elements. Oral storytelling is great because kids feel like they are bonding with their parents, but the soothing nature of a story helps wind them down too.
It’s a win-win.
But telling a story from scratch every night or having the time to search for a new story is a struggle. That’s why we created Story Tyke. A FREE bedtime story email subscription for busy parents.
Give us a try.