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Inside: Do you feel like you are in a battle zone each and every night you try to put your child to sleep? You aren’t alone, bedtime battles are common, but you can put a stop to this behavior with this genius bedtime routine for kids. With 8 simple strategies, this smart (and easy) bedtime routine for children of all ages is a lifesaver.
You just KNOW that bedtime must be a big struggle for parents all over the world when there is actually a best-selling book called “Go the F_ _k to Sleep.”
The struggle is real!
After a long day, which might include wrangling mitts onto your child on a -20 degree day, the ridiculous tantrum over too many carrots in their lunch, the dreaded after school meltdown, the impossible task of sitting still during dinner (maybe even ketchup on the carpet), and playing 50 rounds of hide-and-go-seek, your precious child’s silly behavior is no longer as cute as it seemed 12 hours ago.
But, here’s the good news:
There are simple strategies we can use to make bedtime tolerable and tear-free.
Strategies that can wrap your bedtime routine into a nice little 30-min package (bow and everything).
Yes, I’m totally serious!
And just like the hit TV show Game of Throne quotes in an ominous tone: “Winter is Coming…”
…I’m telling you, “Bedtime IS coming.”
There’s no time to waste.
Let’s get to it, how to create a peaceful bedtime routine for kids with 8 super smart ways!
Bedtime Routine for Kids – Why They Need it
Why do kids need routines?
In a nutshell:
Because routines give kids a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.
Children are often afraid of everything from loud noises, a new vegetable, monsters under the bed, or mommy going away for a night.
These unknowns are VERY stressful for kids.
A predictable routine gives kids a security blanket in a BIG scary world of unknowns (most of which are out of their control)
Just think of all the changes and unknowns in your little one’s life: new classmates at school, changing houses, learning to cross the street, new teachers, bigger beds, new foods, and on and on…
Routines ultimately help kids feel safe and develop coping mechanisms, which will help them tackle change and unknowns as they arise going forward.
Offer up routines wherever you can as the foundation for your child. Help them constructively manage themselves and their environment.
(Don’t forget about mornings – Check out these 7 brilliant ways to create a morning routine that works!)
We know a good bed-time routine is essential, but remember you need to do your routine EACH and EVERY night.
Because this will signal your child’s body and brain that it’s time to power down for sleep. If your child has dinner, bath, pajamas, storytime, etc., in the same sequence every night, this stimuli is signaling their bodies that it’s time for sleep.
The more consistency, the easier time your kids will have falling asleep.
Don’t believe me?
A multination study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that children sleep better when they have a nightly bedtime routine. AND better sleep is directly related to a child’s mental and physical health.
Sleep directly affects a child’s development, behavior, and emotions.
“It’s important that parents create a consistent sleep schedule, relaxing bedtime routine and soothing sleep environment to help their child achieve healthy sleep,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler.
Also, be sure to check out this study this shows that children sleep better when they go to bed earlier.
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Why Bedtime Battles Exist?
The main reason bedtime is like a civil war in your own house is that kids want to extend their time with you.
I know, it feels good to be so loved, doesn’t it?
But the reality is this nightly drama can feel more like a fatal attraction sequel than a beautiful love story.
You’ll catch your kids stalling and manipulating (yes our little angels can be manipulative…gasp), and this behavior can make life very stressful.
I mean, there are ENTIRE support groups strictly for parents exchanging bedtime war stories.
Patricia Cancellier, the former education director of the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington, says it’s normal for behavior issues to be more prevalent when separation is imminent.
“It’s a prime time for them to come up with strategies to extend their time with you and keep you from leaving,” Cancellier says. It’s possible, though, to whittle bedtime rituals to 20 or 30 minutes, she said.
Some other reasons bedtime battles exist:
- Your kids aren’t tired (Consider your nap time schedule or physical activity routines)
- They’re overtired (Are your kids getting their 2nd whirlwind? Put them to bed earlier.)
- Too curious – are magical things happening in the rest of the house? (Keep your household quiet)
- Too busy (Try relaxation techniques)
- Afraid (monsters in the dark – use a comfort item)
- Separation anxiety (spend quality one on one time before bed)
But here’s the good news:
There are solutions to end this struggle. And that solution is a genius bedtime routine for kids. And we will look at ALL these solutions in greater detail below.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Anxiety Kids
Create a bedtime routine for kids that actually works
1. Set a Consistent Time (And Stick to It)
Setting a consistent bedtime is, in my opinion, the MOST important step. That’s why it’s listed first.
So here’s the deal:
Pick a bedtime and stick to it.
Yes, EVEN on weekends.
Boring, I know.
But soooooo important.
Determine out how much sleep your kid needs based on their age, here is a handy chart:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) here are the current sleep recommendations for kids at different ages:
- Babies 4 – 12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep per 24 hours (including naps)
- Kids 1 – 2 years: 11-14 hours of sleep per 24 hours (including naps)
- Kids 3 – 5 years: 10-13 hours of sleep per 24 hours (including naps)
- Kids 6 – 12 years: 9-12 of sleep hours per 24 hours
- Teens 13 – 18 years: 8-10 hours of sleep per 24 hours
Then work backward.
What time do your kids wake up? Count the hours back and that is their bedtime.
I’ve been consistent with my son’s bedtime since he was born. Rarely deviating from our set time.
To the point that my friends roll their eyes when I say we must leave the dinner party by 7 to get home for bed.
But you know what?
I don’t care, they can roll their eyes, because I’ve had great success with my son and bedtime, and I wouldn’t trade an extra hour at a party for a novel of bedtime war stories.
Read here for how an early bedtime can have lasting effects on kids.
2. Give Warnings
Kids need warnings, young kids especially.
Their brains aren’t wired to switch tasks easily.
I start my warnings almost right after school.
I’m constantly reminding my child what is coming next, we are going to eat dinner, play, then have a bath.
Warnings, warnings, warnings.
My son always knows what to expect, so there are no surprises, and this reduces meltdowns and power struggles.
Keep your child in bed longer and get more sleep.
This BRILLIANT clock uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, it glows yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day. When it turns green, it’s time to wake up!
3. Routine, Routine, Routine
Kids thrive on routine.
I’m not kidding.
Like a fish needs water, your kids need routine.
We talked a lot above about why a bedtime routine is so imperative, so we won’t repeat it all again.
But the bottom line is:
Kids need it to succeed.
And I want to encourage you to keep your routine as consistent as possible, day after day.
Your bedtime routine might go like this:
- Playtime (after dinner) 20 minutes
- Bath (20 minutes)
- Snack (10 minutes)
- Brush Teeth and Bathroom Time (5 minutes)
- Story Time (10 minutes)
- Relaxation Exercises Time (10 minutes)
- Lights out, Cuddle Time (5 minutes)
I recommend using visual charts wherever possible.
Oh, and don’t forget about mornings. You can also create a stress-free morning routine right here.
Snag our fun and easy printable chart here:
Little chart, BIG possibilities. Still searching for a fun and helpful
Or, if you aren’t loving Mindfulmazing’s bedtime
- Life Simply Free’s Bed-Time Routine Printables
2. Mom and Dot’s Bedtime Routine Printable
3. Delineate Your Dwelling’s School Evening
4. Use a Timer
You’ve just gotta get this time timer.
We use it EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
I’m a raving fan, and it’s been instrumental in bedtime, limiting screen time AND creating an awesome, peaceful morning routine.
We use our time timer mainly to keep track of how much time remains until bedtime, we also use it to track how much time we have between dinner and when we start our bedtime routine.
But it has so many other benefits other than just time management:
Benefits of using a timer:
- Visual timers help kids transition between tasks, which can be very difficult for some kids (Especially young kids or kids with ADHD or ASD).
- It helps kids to stay on task instead of getting lost in their thoughts.
- Timers help kids tolerate undesirable activities. They can visually see the end is in sight.
- Best of all it promotes independence kids can manage their time, this is empowering and builds confidence.
Involve your child in developing the schedule and routine. Be specific: How many stories will you read? How much time do they have for free play? Consider writing it down and displaying it on the wall.
Engage with your child after school. After a busy and hectic day, kids need some of your undivided attention.
Use three simple but powerful words:
I see you!
Get down on their level and look them in the eye. Perhaps even finish the dishes up after they go to bed or leave the household tasks for later to ensure you’ve connected for at least an hour.
They need some YOU time.
Idea’s to connect with your child:
- Cuddle time
- Make it their time, for 15 minutes kids can pick whatever they want to do before the bedtime routine starts
- Tell a story
- Ask a series of questions. Example: Tell me three of your favorite things about today?
- Say positive affirmations – You can get super fun positive affirmation exercise activities in our Mighty Mindful Kids activity book
- Do relaxation activities together – Mighty Mindful Kids has 40 of them!
- Breathe Together – There is no better way to unwind before bed than breathing exercises.
Don’t wait until the kids are over-tired to start your bedtime routine! That’s like trying to get a drunk person to stop talking! Start your routine plenty early
6. Teach Kids to Relax
Kids need to unwind.
Start this process at least one hour before you want your child sawing logs.
They can’t go from spinning circles to sleeping.
It’s like going to a super loud rock concert and five minutes later being expected to go straight to bed and fall straight asleep.
Some tips to help kids unwind:
- Stay off of screens an hour or more before bedtime. No TV, iPhone or IPads. (And remember, that means you need to model this behavior and stay off your phone as well).
- Have a bath, listen to soft music or read a book.
- Avoid exercise or anything that will stimulate your child. No tickle fights, no dance parties, no hide-and-seek, and definitely NO trampolines.
- Practice mindfulness activities, I recommend Mindful Kids, Yoga Pretzels, and/or our very own best-selling Mindful Kids Guide
- Check out these 10 awesome breathing exercises (some fun videos included too)
Each and every night my son and I do an exercise called: Five Finger Star-Fish Meditation
Hold your hand up and spread your fingers wide. Then, with your finger of the opposite hand, trace all your fingers counting from one to five.
Then have your child hold their hand up and trace their fingers for them, counting slowly. Next, have them take a turn tracing. This is a soothing and rhythmic exercise.
This is one of the 40 exercises included in Mighty Mindful Kids!
Reconsider jam-packed schedules filled with extra-curricular activities. In many homes, parents work and then taxi the kids to and from different activities.
This makes it VERY hard to develop and stick to a routine. And kids need some downtime. So do yourself a favor and pick and choose your activities wisely and don’t over-commit.
7. Tackle Bedtime Problems
It helps if you have awesome tried and tested products to help you tackle bedtime struggles.
You don’t have to go it alone!
Two of the biggest bedtime problems are:
- Kids are scared
- Kids are anxious
To help you conquer these two problems, equip yourself with an arsenal of bedtime magic tickets.
Consider adding any of the following to your bedtime routine:
- A night light (you’ve just gotta check out this mac daddy night light)
- Give your kiddo a security object – A favorite stuffy, lovey, or a blanket. I adore this twilight battery‐operated stuffed animal (available as a variety of creatures including a Turtle, Ladybug and Unicorn) that transforms any room into a starry night sky to help comfort children to sleep.
- Use a sound machine – I totally love this one – The Hatch Rest + Sound Machine (and it’s fully backed by What Mom’s Love 35 Game-Changing Sleep Products – it combines three essential sleep secrets into one: sound machine, night light and ok to wake alert.
- Dream Catcher
- Lavender essential oils
- Use magnesium before bed to calm
- Use a weighted blanket
- Use black-out curtains – these nifty curtains (Gro anywhere blinds) attach to any window with suction cups and can be adjusted to any size.
Check out this short video to see the Hatch Rest Machine in action:
Don’t forget to snag your twilight sleep turtle. Float away in peaceful slumber under a beautiful star-filled sky. The perfect sleep companion for children of all ages.
8. Be patient
But be patient.
Like any new habit, it takes time to perfect and to stick.
Don’t expect too much too soon. Be patient and consistent and results will come.
If you are having trouble staying calm, why not grab our free mindfulness beginner’s guide. This will keep you calm all night long!
Navigating Bedtime Troubles
Some of you are reading this and screaming, “It’s not always that easy!”
And with one child on the spectrum, I know that is absolutely true.
Bedtime tests you in a way nothing else can.
We could write an entire book on how to keep kids in bed.
The begging for one more story, another snack, an itchy nose, needing to go to the bathroom, monsters under the bed.
There is no limit to the excuses and creativity your child will pull out of their hat when it comes to not going to bed.
And when you tiptoe out of their room, only to hear their little voice call mommy, your stomach sinks. You are exhausted.
Personally, I follow the super nannies techniques:
Many other parents are raving about this technique:
Have you heard of a bedtime pass?
Well according to many parents, this is a magical pass from heaven above:
And you might drop your jaw at just how simple and fun this solution is:
“It’s called “the bedtime pass,” and it works like this: Every night, parents give their child a five-by-seven card that is the bedtime pass. They explain to their child that the pass is good for one excused departure from the bedroom per night, whether that’s to use the bathroom, get one more hug, report a scary dream, whatever. After the pass is used, the child may not leave the bedroom again, and the parents are not to answer if they call out.”
It’s really that simple.
10 Benefits of Using A Bedtime Routine For Kids
Using a bedtime routine for kids reduces chaos and uncertainty in your kiddo’s life.
Life runs smoothly when it’s organized and routine.
Without self-management routines, kids could struggle to care for themselves as adults.
Structure is important.
Having said that:
Rules are made to be broke, and staying up late to see an eclipse, or watch for Santa may be an exception but structure is your friend and it’s here to make life easier and cozier.
- Routines eliminate power struggles – Routines are the rules, so you can stop being the bad guy.
- Routines help kids transition – young kids struggle big-time with transitions.
- Routines help kids be in charge – so they feel less need to rebel.
- Regular routines help kids get on a schedule so that they fall asleep more easily at night.
- Schedules help you set expectations and help your child follow them.
Let’s look at bedtime in a new way, instead of the next World War 3 let’s look at it as a quiet and calm bonding time.
A time to ask questions, cuddle, and truly tune into what matters most.
Other Articles you might love:
- How To Create a Stress-Free Morning For Kids
- 11 Calm Down Strategies Kids Can Use Anywhere
- How To Handle the After School Meltdown
- How To Stop Yelling at Your Kids in 3 Simple Steps
Bedtime must happen, so you choose how it will happen. Rushed and stressed, or calm, connected and peaceful.
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We are very strict with our bedtime routine and the kids know exactly what is expected of them, which helps a ton. Doesn’t mean we do not have a meltdown every now and then, but at least they know there is a structure to it all.