Is there a parent who does not wish bedtime went a little smoother? One of the best ways to get babies to settle down in bed is to create a regular bedtime routine. A ritual lets them know that bedtime is a comforting and happy way to end the day.

Babies and young children are creatures of habit and they need the predictability of a routine. Performing the same simple tasks before bedtime each night helps signal that everything is safe and sound and that it’s time to go to sleep.

Sleep can be an emotional issue for the whole family. Children are often reluctant to separate from their parents at the end of the day. They may also have some fears about being alone in the dark or away from loved ones. Meanwhile, sleep-deprived parents may be longing for a chance to get some rest themselves, or even just some quiet time with each other without children.

On the other hand, parents who have spent a long day at work may crave more time with their children than bedtime allows. Often it’s a mix of several feelings, making it a complicated time. Bedtime is hard for parents, too. The following tips will help parents and children cope better when it comes to time to call it a day.

The Do’s

Consider a ritual carefully. Not every bedtime routine will stand the test of time. Once something becomes established in your child’s mind, she’ll come to expect it. Do you really want to sing the entire soundtrack to “The Lion King” night after night? Choose your rituals carefully, so you do not regret later.

Some good, time-tested rituals to consider include:

  • A warm bath, then some snuggle time in clean pajamas.
  • Reading a favorite book or listening to soothing music.
  • A favorite song, sung by mom, dad, or the whole family.
  • A diaper change.
  • A gentle back rub.

Be consistent

Have a fairly firm bedtime and a predictable order of events. Toddlers will benefit from a reminder about half an hour ahead of time, then about 10 minutes before bedtime. Springing bedtime on them suddenly will only make them more reluctant to give up their current activity. Make sure the ritual takes place in the children’s sleeping room or sleeping areas, too.

Keep activity low-key

Do not over stimulate your child right before bed. For a baby, clear out the mounds of stuffed animals from the crib. Removing toys will signal that it’s time to quiet down. For an older child, no roughhousing or watching TV before bed.

The Don’ts

Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle

It is true that sucking helps soothe a baby to sleep, but swallowing milk or juice throughout the night soaks the teeth in decay-causing sugars. Also drinking while lying down can lead to fluid buildup in the ears. Thus, if your child is accustomed to falling asleep with a bottle in his mouth, he’ll have trouble settling down when he wakes up at night and finds no bottle or an empty one.

Don’t leave the lights on

It is important for a child to learn to distinguish day from night and that nighttime is for sleeping. If he does wake up and it’s dark, he’ll know that it’s not time to get up yet. Leaving a bright light on is confusing.

Don’t rush into solid foods to help your baby sleep

Some parents are convinced that babies wake up so often because they’re not satisfied with a liquid diet. But breast milk or formula is the ideal food for a baby during the first six months. Solids don’t really promote sleeping at night; so don’t introduce them before they baby is seven months old unless your health care provider recommends it.

Published on January 2013