Bedtime Rituals

Information on helping the transition from waking to sleeping a great event.

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General advice:

  • If possible, talk to your children about the needs and benefits of a better bedtime routine and emphasize the need for cooperation.
  • Weaning will help with a lot of bedtime-related problems.  Once you are past the initial weaning difficulties, your child will most likely fall asleep easier and for longer durations.
  • Make bedtime a set time.  At this designated hour, regardless of whether all promised rituals have been fulfilled or not, it is time for bed.
  • If you have more than one child, it is helpful for all of your children to do the nighttime routine together. Try doing a bath, teeth brushing, and story time together and have them retire to their own separate bedrooms.
  • After your child is ready for bed, allow extra time for a fun activity and tell your child that they will receive your undivided attention for the duration of the activity. Explain to your child that this is a reward for getting to bed in a cooperative, timely manner.
  • Take your child to the playground or encourage some kind of physical activity to ensure that they get plenty of exercise; this will make resting and the bedtime process a lot easier. Start the bedtime routine early so that your child has plenty of time to settle in.
  • This will be a slow process, so allow yourself time to sort out the particulars.  When it happens, it is heaven and you will have your life back. Even just a couple of hours a week can be enough to recharge you.


Helpful Tips from Parents:

  • One tactic that helped with our 4-year-old was the addition of ‘mommy time’ or ‘daddy time’ to the bedtime routine. After reading stories, when our child is in bed with the lights off and under the covers, one of us sits in his room and talks quietly for 5-10 minutes about anything he wants to talk about.
  • Occasionally we will just spend quality time together before bedtime. We have learned a lot about our child during these moments, and I think that he likes having extra quiet time at the end of the day where he can receive our undivided attention.  We also enjoy these peaceful moments with him.
  • We do teeth brushing, read a story, and spend a few extra minutes together by the bedside. We also play nighttime music, which helps induce sleep. Sometimes after reading a story, we listen to the sounds from outside together, as it is usually calm and quiet outside our windows.  We also tried teddy bears, but they haven’t been nearly as successful as staying by the bedside for 5-10 minutes.
  • My son is 2-and-a-half years old and just recently started going to sleep on his own.  He sleeps through the night in a bed pulled up right next to ours.  Originally, I tried following Dr. Jay Gordon’s advice on cutting down the number of night feedings, but I think this method only served to confuse my son.  Instead, I would nurse during daylight and offer him snacks when he woke up hungry during nighttime, which proved to be effective.
  • We purchased a sticker chart that can be used for getting ready for bed in a timely fashion. After a certain number of stickers, your child gets some kind of reward. Another poster suggests putting a smiley face or a frown face on the chart, depending on how well your child cooperates each night at bedtime.
  • Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution also has some helpful ideas to gradually break your child into new sleep habits.
  • My daughter gets up between 5-10 times each night for various reasons.  I told her she had to get into bed earlier, and then she could have a half hour of silly time, where she could get out of the crib as much as she wanted for bathroom visits and drinks. It has made things saner for the both of us.
  • My daughter needed me to rub and pat her back for hours on end. The best thing that happened to break us of that cycle was the arrival of her little brother. I was able to say, “I have to go put your little brother in his bed now.”  What also seemed to work for us was doing the usual bedtime routine, sitting for a few minutes, and then saying that I needed to go fold laundry or use the bathroom.  I stayed away a few minutes longer each night. If she became upset, I could talk to her from the hallway or stick my head in her bedroom.
  • With our daughter we went into her room when she woke up, gave her some water to drink, a very quick, no-nonsense diaper change and then put her back in her crib.  We also make sure that her bedroom is sufficiently dark.  We have lined curtains on top of blinds.
  • We bought a twin bed and placed it on the floor of our daughter’s room when she was about 18 months old, so it would be easy for her to get in and out of bed.  I always tried to make bedtime really fun. After finishing the bottle, I would kiss and snuggle with her while I hugged and soothed her. Then I would ask if she was ready to get in the crib with her ‘blanky’.  I would put her in the crib and smile and giggle and get her all cozy, emphasizing that this was a really fun activity.  We just had to make it feel safe, fun, and cozy.  We did this at about 15 months and it worked wonderfully.
  • One of the ways I help our 18-month-old daughter settle down for the night was to recap the day. I would do it in a dark room, in a quiet voice, saying “What a big day we had! We went to the store and you saw all those oranges, and we played with Samantha, and then you ate all those ravioli.”  I would tell her that it was time to rest, that the moon was up and the stars were out, that there would be lots of time tomorrow and that she needed to get her rest for all the fun things we would be doing.  The nice thing is that if she woke up from a bad dream and needed to be comforted, I could pick up where our conversation left off.


Bedtime Fears:

  • I asked my son if the monsters in his bedroom were nice or mean. When he said mean, I asked, “Mean like Elmo? Mean like Cookie Monster?”  We had a discussion along the lines of, “Elmo is a monster, and is he mean? No. He is a silly little monster. Cookie Monster is a monster, is he mean? No.” We tickled each other, I pretended to be the monster who eats little boys with his name, and suddenly monsters were not so scary anymore.  I gave him his stuffed Elmo and Cookie Monster animals to sleep with because, being monsters themselves, they were friends with all the other monsters and would tell them to leave my son alone. 
  • In regards to monsters in the bedroom, I told my son that it was my job to protect him and that he did not have to worry about anything because Mommy and Daddy were there to take care of him.  I also emphasized that monsters are only pretend creatures. I bought him a dreamcatcher--as legend has it that they filter out bad dreams.  We also framed a pair of antique Chinese tiger bibs near his bed; it is supposed to keep evil spirits away from babies.  I make sure to point out both of these at bedtime.
  • When our 7-year-old son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, he became anxious, had difficulty falling asleep and had violent nightmares.  Our therapist offered some helpful suggestions that have since worked wonders.  She suggested I lie next to him in his bed and read stories out loud to him during bedtime. The physical contact of our bodies touching combined with the act of reading out loud helped to foster the most beautiful parent-child intimacy.  It immediately helped our child relax and feel more secure. Reading to him instilled in him the notion that he was being taken care of, and this succeeded in calming and comforting him.


Bedtime on the Road:

  • Bringing a ‘lovey’ on the road worked well for us.  Try to bring anything familiar from home that your child associates with sleeping, resting, or nursing
  • I think the reason our son wakes up more on the road than at our home is because it may be unsettling or frightening for him to sleep in an unfamiliar surrounding. We allow our son to cry at home, but on the road we try to find ways to reassure him that Mommy and Daddy are always nearby.  Another thing that reassures our son is to show him in advance exactly where he will be sleeping and exactly where we will be sleeping. This gives him plenty of time to digest the information and get accustomed to his new surroundings.


Helpful Feedback on Naptime Rituals:

  • For naps, I would put our son in the crib after a certain amount of time in my arms. I think we started with 10 minutes after we finished nursing and worked down to about 3-5 minutes, which is where we’ve stayed.  When he is teething, sick, or otherwise upset, I hold him in my arms for longer periods.  If he cried when I set him in the crib, I would do the usual soothing things, such as patting, butt jiggling, clucking, shushing, singing, for a limited amount of time. Then I said ‘time to sleep’ and walked out despite his cries. He quickly caught on that it was time to go to sleep on his own.
  • If you are not keeping a regular naptime, I would recommend implementing that first. Of course, if your child is beginning to shift down from two naps to one, it might be a more complex process.  I do believe that children are truly happier when they know what to expect in their day