Sleep is important! Young children require more sleep than adults and making bed and naptimes a very regulated routine can help with innumerable daytime issues. Getting enough sleep helps children stay alert, gives their brain cells time to develop and keeps them healthy. The time children spend sleeping might be more important to growth than the time they spend awake.
The most important thing for children is a regular bedtime and enough sleep. Children need to get to bed at the same time and awake at the same time every day. This should extend to non-school days and to children who might not have regularly scheduled activities every day. Children who are getting enough time to run, jump and climb, particularly outside in natural spaces, have a much easier time getting to sleep.
Bedtimes will be much better if you can develop a consistent routine that your children know and understand. Making a pictures list or a home-made children’s book that explains your routine can help with this. Include in this routine the things that happen before bed and the things that happen when your child wakes up. For very young children, the routine should include getting children into their crib or bed before they fall asleep. It is important that children learn to fall asleep on their own and then makes it much less scary when they wake up on their own.
Bedtime should be a comfortable and happy part of a child’s life. Create a room that is an inviting place. Allow children to take an item to bed, such as a doll or soft toy, as a comfort. Include calm activities and sounds in your routine – quiet music, reduced light, soothing story time and warm baths are great examples.
Loud and distracting things are very difficult for children during this time. Try to protect the bedtime routine time as un-interrupted time in your house. Try not to be in a hurry or have your attention divided during this time. Try not to answer phones and dedicate one parent to just the bedtime activities.
Children who are struggling with bedtimes might benefit from a change in how we talk about the bedtime and the power they are given in making bedtime decisions. The picture schedule or picture book about bedtime routines is a good first step, followed by giving children choices. Allowing them to choose between two sets of pajamas or whether they want to brush their teeth before or after bath time might make a world of difference. Limit the choices presented to two or three options. Also, use sentences that say “first” and “then” to set expectations that children can follow. “First we will get our pajamas on and crawl into the cozy blankets, then we will read two stories.” Young children can only hold a few steps in their head at a time, so these two step sentences are perfect.
When children are sleeping on a schedule, parents might benefit from more sleep too!