Updated: Sep 17
After having 5 children over the last 21 years, (yes! I was totally that mum) I have found a bedtime system that works well for my kids and many others that I have shared this with, however the earlier you start, the less resistance you have when putting in the system! The system is nothing new, its just a well organised consistent bedtime routine that works, and I have done this with my kids since birth. If your sitting there thinking, but my child is 10 yrs old can I even start this now? In short YES! There may be a few wobbly moments in the first week, but keep going and it will happen! (You can also use natural sleep drops to help them get into the routines of being calm prior bedtime, if they are struggling, I never had too, but every child is different).
So why should we have a bedtime routine! There are so many benefits not only to your child, but to you as a parent, with science to back it up. Let me briefly outline those benefits for you, if you would like to dig deeper, I have included links to some of the research out there.
Sleep Boost Brain Development : When your baby, toddler or child sleeps their brain is growing as good sleep helps the brain increase brain tissue also known as grey matter.
Sleep boost learning: Newborns usually learn in their sleep as the nervous system is testing connections between the muscles and the brain, however babies and toddlers who have naps tend to remember more than ones who didn't.
Sleep boost growth: There are numerous studies shown that there is a relationship between poor sleep and a deficient level of the growth hormone. So if your the shortest in your family, maybe you can blame poor sleep!
Sleep helps a child (who is over 3) have more control over their emotions and is less reactive
Sleep routines also give more time at night for you to relax. Big bonus, right! Actually this should be the only reason you need! Just saying!
Right! so now you know why we should do it, how and what does a bedtime routine look like? Well one that works! It actually starts around 2-3 hours before bedtime! I call it bedtime prep!
The Bedtime Prep: I have 4 steps outlining what you need to do before you even think of putting your kiddies to bed! (Obviously babies would be a little different)
Bath time! The best time to have a bath is actually 2 - 3 hours before bed, or at least 1 hour if your doing baths after dinner. I always try and do baths right before dinner, as it places my kids into a relax state of mind, and I'm not sure about your kids, but mine are always hungry after a bath, so dinner is about 5 minutes away from being served just after they come out.
Lets talk meal time! This should be served at least 1 to 2 hours prior to bedtime at least, this helps the food settle and any energy from the meal can be burn off before lying them down to sleep. Can you imagine, you just ate and your body turns the meal into fuel and then you have to lay there, your child will just wriggle or find any excuse to get out of bed (this doesn't apply to babies who are breast or bottle fed), they will play up and before you know it, they are over tired and now won't go to bed even though they are exhausted!
Brushing teeth and chores! After our meal, my children brush their teeth and do a few chores (age appropriate), they did chores even when they were little toddlers, first chore I always teach is to place their plate on the bench.
Free quite time and/or homework but no screen time! Once they have completed their chores and brushed their teeth, if they have homework, this is when we do it, but only if its not on the computer. If its on the computer we would do it before bath time. We do spelling, reading and math here, if they do not have homework then we get out the drawing kit, or lego and they do a sit down activity until their bedtime. We do not let them go on devices or watch t.v.; In saying that we do have the news on and Daddy does watch his dad shows! But the children are not sitting doing an activity and are not watching mainly because it is boring, by doing this we are allowing their sleep hormone to increase as they get tired, devices (the blue light) delay's that hormone to release, so your child won't fall asleep easily, and then they get over tired, again making it harder for them to settle into a sleep routine. I just found that my kids were happier to go to bed when they haven't had hours of t.v. or devices, they felt relax and ready for bed.
Bed time countdown! I always let the children know what time their bedtime is and how long they have left, like 30 minutes, 10 minutes then 5 more minutes then finally 1 minute so time to finish. This actually stops the I don't want to go to bed tantrums! Well most of the time!
And that is my pre-bedtime prep, this is essential when getting my little ones ready for bed. So now that we are ready to put them to bed, we need to think about when! Timing is everything, too early, they end up laying there awake or to late means they do not get enough sleep. And trust me when I say, the theory of 'if you put a child to bed later, they will wake up later', is not true! Your child will either be a night owl or a morning person, once you figure this out, you can set their bedtime. Depending on the age of you child will determine how much sleep they need!
For a 0-1 yr old they need 14 -16 hours of sleep a day
1 - 3 yrs old they need 12 - 14 hours of sleep per day
3 - 6 yrs old will need 10 - 12 hours of sleep per day
7 - 12 yrs old will be 10 - 11 hours of sleep per day
And finally 12 - 18 years old only need 8-9 hours of sleep per day
Using this guide as an average, it should help you estimate when their bedtime should be, based on when you need your child to get up.
So now we are ready for the bedtime routine! Whatever you decided to do during your bedtime routine is completely up to your family, however the key is to keep it the same every night, that is what makes this system so effective, it won't work if you do not consistently follow the routine, (it is OK to occasionally change the timing of the routine if you have stuff going on, but the bedtime routine should still happen). A bedtime routine is made up of hugs and kisses, books, songs and talking. That's it! How this will look, will be depend on you, your environment and your child. I will outline what we do, however if I can encourage one routine activity at bedtime, is to read to your child every night, not only does it encourage the imagination, it sets them up for independent reading and builds their vocabulary, to give you an example, by reading to a baby every day, by the time they are 2, they will know around 300 more words than if you didn't.
Our Bedtime Routine
I will just outline my 3 youngest children as my two older ones are now adults and are living in their own places, it would be a little weird if I went to their house and did this routine!
Firstly these routines are from Sunday to Friday as Saturday we always watch a family movie, so its a little later.
Bath time is always between 4.30/ 4.45pm and lasts around 30 minutes
Dinner time is often between 5.20- 5.45pm (yes we are fast eaters and 99% of the time eat together)
Chores, homework, brush teeth and a drawing activity happens from 5.45pm - to bedtime
Ally's my toddler who is now almost 4, her bedtime is at 6.30pm, she is an early worm and no longer has naps, so she needs to be in bed by 6.30pm, we always read a story (a picture book), have a little chat where she can tell me two things about her day (otherwise I would be there all night) I sing (if you can call it that) her a special song (each child has their own special song from birth) and I give a big hug and kiss good night, Dad then comes in, and gives his big hug and kiss good night, then say the prayer and leaves. Sometimes if Ally isn't falling asleep she will sit on her bed and look at books until she falls asleep. She is always (well! 95% of the time) asleep by 7pm.
Annabelle who is 6, she goes to bed at 7pm, she is also an early worm. Her routine is exactly the same as Ally's, however she has a different song, and we read one chapter from a chapter book, sometimes she will read sentences which is painfully slow. She is sometimes asleep by 7. 45pm at the latest, normally by 7.30pm.
And Aayla who is 8 turning 9, she is my night owl, her bedtime is 7.30, however she wont be asleep until around 8.10 - 8.30pm. The routine is different as she feels she is to old for a night time song, and prefers to read herself, so I will give her a cuddle and kiss, if she lets me, I always lie next to her and talk about anything she wants too, then I make sure our cat is on her bed, because she loves animals cuddles, I then give her a torch and she will read until she falls asleep, Daddy will go in and say the prayer while stealing kisses and cuddles. (She doesn't really like cuddles or kisses)
But that is it! If the prep work is done and you got their bed time timed right and you are consistent, you should be successful, it really is so easy. I hope was helpful, good luck :)