Establishing a bedtime routine will make bedtime easier for both you and your young child. By having a routine, your child is far more likely to be sleepy when his head hits the pillow. The routine alerts his subconscious mind that it is time to unwind. The right bedtime routine can help him to calm down and send him off to dreamland with happy thoughts. So what constitutes a bedtime routine? And how long will it take before it is automatic?
Five Steps until Bedtime
A good number of steps for any preschool activity is five, because the child has five fingers. You can teach your child the steps, and have him count down on his hand. When he gets to zero, it’s time to climb beneath the covers. This simple activity can help the child understand the one-to-one correspondence necessary before simple addition and subtraction can be learned. It also helps prepare him for the impending deadline.
Step One: Pick up Toys
This is a good step to begin any bedtime routine. It teaches the child to take care of his possessions. By picking up his toys at night, he is making his environment clean and safe. His toys will be where he can find them later for another great day of play. It also says, “time for play is over.” However, the preschool child is not mature enough to complete this task on his own. Depending on the level of mess he has created, he will need your help to complete the task.
If you scold your child repeatedly to hurry up and finish cleaning, what kind of dreams do you think he will have? Do you imagine that he will slip sweetly into sleep as soon as you kiss him good-night? This is not the time for impatience. The words you give your child now will stay with him all night long. You want the last thoughts on his conscious mind to be of love and acceptance. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Roll the tension from your shoulders. Just think – in thirty minutes, your child will be asleep, and you will be free to do the things you want to do. So, get down on the floor and help your child pick up his toys!
You can make it a game. “I’ll pick up the red toys and you can pick up the blue ones. Who will get done first?” If picking up takes too long, start earlier tomorrow night, or have several pick-up times throughout the day. Put some of your child’s toys away in a closet out of reach and rotate them. He doesn’t have to have every toy he owns at his disposal. Most children own too many toys anyway. Help him manage his mess by limiting the things he can get into.
Step Two: Bath Time
Many families like to have a bath before bedtime as part of their routine. This is especially important in the summer time when children play outside more, with more skin exposed. They just don’t get quite as dirty when they are bundled in snowsuits and the ground is frozen. But the bath is more than just an opportunity to get clean. Water play is educational, as well.
Filling containers with water helps the child develop eye-hand coordination. He learns basic mathematical concepts, like “empty, full, light, heavy,” and “how many”. How many cups will it take to fill the larger container? How many capsful will it take to fill the empty shampoo bottle?
Playing in water can also be very soothing. It’s a great way to begin unwinding after a busy day. Set a timer, though. Otherwise, your child will quickly learn that the longer he can draw out bathtime, the longer he can postpone the inevitable. Fifteen minutes is generally long enough to eliminate the dirt and a few extra wiggles. If possible, put Daddy in charge of bathtime, and it will be extra fun. Daddy and child can share this calm, bonding experience, while you have fifteen minutes to yourself.
Step Three: Pajamas
The water has drained out of the tub, and the tub toys have been stacked into a special bin or net where the water can drain (so they don’t grow moldy). Your child is wrapped in a big, fluffy bathsheet, and the last drops of water have been kissed away. Now it’s time to help him put on his pajamas. Even if he can dress himself, you can help him with this step. Supervise, at least, so he doesn’t create the exciting new game of streaking through the house stark naked. Then, it’s time to brush teeth. This activity should be supervised, as well. Preschoolers are too young to do a thorough job. You can set a timer yet again for three minutes, and encourage your child to brush until the timer dings.
Step Four: Story Time
Step Five: Hugs and Kisses
The last thing you say to your child will stick with him all through the night. It is imperative that you make these moments count. Even if he’s been pushing your buttons all day long, make the effort to be patient and loving. He will fall asleep faster, and perhaps have happier dreams. Tuck him in bed. Give him butterfly kisses (batting your eyelashes against his face) or “Eskimo” kisses (rubbing noses together). Some families use the last moments before sleep to teach their child to pray. Even in non-religious families, you can develop a bedtime habit of recounting the day’s adventures and thinking about friends and loved ones.
Some children require more effort to unwind. If your’s is a highly active child, or has had an exceptionally busy day, you may want to rub his back for five minutes. This soothing touch has helped day care providers get thousands of wiggly little bodies to fall asleep swiftly at day care centers around the world. It takes only a few minutes, and is far more effective than scolding the child for an hour to settle down and go to sleep.
That’s it. At each step, have your child say the step, do the step, and count down on his fingers. After the fifth step is completed, leave the room. You might turn on a nightlight, or leave the door open an inch or two. Do not get in the habit of turning on a television. Studies have shown that people who sleep with a tv on do not get sound sleep, and take longer to fall asleep than those who sleep without it. The same can be said for music. You could put on a music CD of lullabies or classical music, but do not put it on replay. Just play it once through, then allow silence to fill the room. The exception could be if you live in an area with a lot of noise, like a big apartment complex with narrow walls, or next to a train station, then you might resort to a white noise machine that helps to block the noise.
Make it a rule that there will be no more sips of water, no more stories, no more talking, no more anything after the five bedtime steps have been completed. His last chance for water was when he brushed his teeth. He has no more need for water. The body does not need water through the night. On the contrary, it needs to fast. The digestive system needs to finish working on digestion, and then it goes into repair mode. People who eat late night snacks prevent their own bodies from repairing damaged cells, and can create poor health.
Twenty-One Days to a New You
Studies have shown that it takes twenty-one days to make a new routine a habit. Try it yourself! You know you should floss every night, but few people do. Make it a requirement for twenty-one days. If you remember after you went to bed, get up and do it anyway. After three weeks, it will become habit, and you won’t even have to think about it. So, create your own five-step bedtime routine, or use the one mentioned here. Commit yourself to following it for twenty-one days, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how much easier bedtime becomes for you and your preschool child.