Most parents will agree that bedtime is the most chaotic time at home (particularly if they have more than one child). Many times I have been asked to babysit just at bedtime to be an extra set of hands. Kids are tired and cranky, parents are exhausted too, making it hard for bedtime to be a smooth, relaxing process. However, this is just what it should be. Most importantly, the bedtime routine should be fairly consistent and always start at the same time. Predictability helps kids to feel less anxious as they know what to expect. Did you know that one of the top predictors of mental health problems in children is inconsistent parenting? It is impossible to be consistent 100% of the time, but the more the better. How do you feel if you do not know what is expected of you or what your routine will be? It makes kids and adults alike feel anxious. Ok, back to the bedtime routine.
You want to prepare your child for the bedtime routine by giving them a ten minute warning and let them know what the bedtime routine will include (most importantly that it will conclude with them going to sleep!). You want to have a period of winding down before bed, with calming activities in low light. Examples of such activities include doing a puzzle, playing a board game, going outside and looking at the stars, taking a bath, drawing a picture, listening to calm music, or reading a book. You want to avoid stimulating activities and light exposure (TV, computer, video games, cell phones, etc.). The dark signals to our body to release melatonin, so when a child or adult is exposed to bright lights, this can interfere with the production of the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin.
Additionally, the bedtime routine signals to children’s brains it is time to start winding down. When their brain gets this message, it tells their body to produce melatonin. The activity right before bed should stay the same as this will be the final signal to the brain that it is time for sleep. This can include a light snack, saying goodnite to pets, brushing teeth, reading a book, etc. It is recommended to go to bed neither starving nor stuffed. Great bedtime snacks include yogurt, toast with peanut butter, a piece of fruit or a small bowl of cereal.
Do your children have a bedtime routine? What is it like? It is never too late to introduce one!