by Alissa Pemberton BSc (Midwifery), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant & Holistic Sleep Coach READ ABOUT HOW BREASTFEEDING IMPACTS SLEEP HERE!
Many parents find themselves 'battling' with their children during the bedtime routine. Whether it's to get them into pyjamas, dealing with them tearing around when they're supposed to be winding down, or ACTUALLY trying to get them to fall asleep.
As a mum of two, and a gentle sleep coach, I've experienced this myself and with so many families I work with. But here's the thing - there are a few super easy things you can do to hack your bedtime routine and avoid having these battles - and just make your evenings that bit easier.
1) Have a predictable routine
When I say predictable, I mean so predictable it's boring. Having the routine in the same order, every night gives your child a sense of security - there are no surprises there, they can be prepared for the next step because they know exactly what it will be.
It also is hugely helpful in creating a sense of autonomy for older children. Creating a routine chart with tabs to close or boxes to tick (you can use a small whiteboard so it can be reused) is really helpful for children 2.5/3 years and over - you can give them control over getting these things done, and they'll love the feeling of achievement getting to cross it off their bedtime chart. It also saves you repeating yourself over and over again. (Will you please have a wee and brush your teeth?)
2) Time it right
This one is really key to a smooth easy bedtime routine. Start too early when your kiddos just aren't tired enough, and you'll find the falling asleep part of the routine takes a long time (parents often report to me their child is taking upwards of an hour to fall asleep). Over time they lose the association between going to their bed and quickly falling asleep and so these prolonged bedtimes become habitual.
Start too late, when your child is overtired and you're more likely to have meltdowns, or hyperactive behaviour which rather than telling you they've got extra energy is actually a sign that they're already tired.
If you know they're overtired, or may need longer to wind down from a stimulating day start your bedtime routine earlier. Get through bath, pyjamas, teeth etc. and then have some quiet play in dim lighting in their bedroom before you start actively trying to get them to sleep. This way you're not trying to get them in the bath or dressed for bed when they're exhausted.
My best tip is to have a tidal bedtime. This means that whilst your bedtime routine stays the same every night, the timing of it changes. While your child is still napping - it will vary more. Depending on the timing of their last nap, and how long they slept for you can bring bedtime forward or push it back by up to an hour to compensate for missed sleep or later naps.
Let's say your 18 month old is down to one nap per day, and they usually sleep 12-2pm, and then fall asleep in the evening around 7pm. But today, a delivery driver decided to bang on your front door far louder than was needed, at 1.15pm and after that your little one was NOT going back to sleep.
They've missed 45 minutes of their usual nap, so we could bring bedtime (the time we're aiming for them to fall asleep) forward to around 6.15pm
**A note on morning wakings - if you're bringing bedtime forward to compensate for missed sleep it's unlikely to have the knock on effect of an earlier morning waking.
3) Big Body Play One of the simplest ways to hack your bedtime routine is to include big body play after dinner. In the warmer weather/lighter evenings always try to get outdoors if you can, but in the winter months you can still achieve this inside. Spend around 20 minutes after dinner, and before bedtime routine on big body play. Anything which helps your child to build on and practice their current physical skills Non mobile babies
Rolling on the ground, or supporting them to roll Gentle movements like bicycle legs Holding babies hands and helping them to use their core muscles to sit themselves up. Tickling, cuddling, aeroplanes. Giving a massage (this is actually stimulating for young babies and so helps to burn extra energy)
Crawling around on grass
Practicing log rolls - rolling over and over from one side of the room/garden to the other
Obstacle courses to crawl over - try taking the sofa cushions off and arranging them on the floor
Sushi rolls - roll your baby up tightly in a blanket, head and feet out, and then push gently to unroll them, then repeat
Tickle fights, donkey rides
Practicing cruising or walking holding your hands
Jumping on trampoline
Obstacle courses - either outdoor or indoor
Simon Says games
Sushi Rolls (see above)
Donkey rides, tickling, chasing, rough housing.
This is a fantastic way to help your child get rid of extra energy at the end of the day, give them exposure to more broad spectrum daylight, which aids with our sleep hormone production. Once you've finished your big body play time, come inside, turn lights down low, and keep the environment darker and quieter until bedtime.
This dramatic change from daylight/bright light to dim light and quiet will help their body to produce melatonin, the hormone needed to fall asleep.
4) Use the two choices method
As a mum of two, one being a toddler, I have had many moments of the battle with a determined little toddler who just wants it their way!
In this situation try using the two choices method.
Give your child two options, both of which achieve what you need to, but which give THEM a choice and make them feel like they're in control. "Do you want to have a bath or a shower?" "Do you want to put your pyjama top on first or bottoms?" "Shall we have the red towel or the white towel?" "Would you like stories in your room or stories in Mummy and Daddy's room?"
All of these things still achieve YOUR objective of getting your child washed, dressed and in bed. But it gives THEM the feeling that they're in control, and makes the bedtime routine feel like a partnership to them, rather than using an authoritarian approach where you are always in control.