7 Steps to a Perfect Bedtime Routine

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:

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:

  1. Taking a warm bath is more soothing than a parent sticking a prodding stick—toothbrush—into your mouth.
  2. 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?

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