Sleep is for the weak (said no mom ever): instilling a bedtime routine

It’s easy to let our routines go, especially in the summer. With days at the beach, summer festivals, and family traveling it can be all too tempting to forego bedtime and indulge our kids’ wishes for just five more minutes of play! Ensuring that kids get enough sleep is important for many reasons, but it may surprise you how many benefits it has for you as a parent. Here’s why parents should stay strong and keep bedtime consistent no matter what. 

What’s your bedtime routine look like?
As a parent coach and Mom to three boys under the age of 12 I get asked this question a lot from my clients and friends anxious to end the power struggle that begins in their homes right after dinner time. Honestly, I coach quite similar bedtime routines for every family I work with because the routine and timing aren’t rocket science. So, what is the really huge challenge? It’s staying strong and keeping the schedule on course while outwitting your demanding child at the end of the day when you’re tired, feel beat up and just plain over it. This is when getting your child in bed and staying there can often veer off course.

Why do I want a bedtime routine?
Let me tell you why, and I want you to always remember this: A child raised in a scheduled and structured home always knows what to expect and won’t fight you on going to bed. Kids thrive on routine. Yes, it’s super boring for you and every day can feel like Groundhog Day, but being a parent is about providing your child with a calm and Zen home – not one filled with chaos and meltdowns. When a child has a structured bedtime routine, he will follow the steps like the good soldier you’ve raised him to be because he feels comforted and in control by the same ‘ol same ol pattern. You say that’s lame and boring? I say, the sooner you get onboard, the better off you’ll be!

When should I begin a bedtime routine?
NOW! It’s never too late to begin simple bedtime rituals with your little one. Really! You can set a routine in place the first night you’re home with your newborn OR with your five year old. The only thing to remember is once you start a routine, stick with it. Every. Single. Night. This way you don’t confuse your little dude. Think about it like this: you don’t like surprises and neither does a child. They like a guarantee. They love knowing what they get to do next in their day.

So what does this look like?
Here is a list of starting points by age range to help you create the best bedtime routine for your family.

0-3 months
Typically around 9pm you’ll notice your baby’s eyes glossing over. He becomes quiet and may even rub his eyes. It’s go time! Do not hesitate and miss his sleep cue or your precious few hours of sleep before he needs to eat again. Feed him, burp, swaddle and lay him in his crib either asleep or with drowsy eyes.

3-6 months
At this age your baby is able to stay awake for longer time periods and you’ll notice his feeding and sleeping falling into a haphazard pattern. Your bedtime goal is 7:00-8:30pm and the bedtime routine is never longer than 30 minutes. This allows bonding time and still time for you before you’re too tired to have your own life. Bath, pjs, story, feed, burp and lay him in his crib with drowsy eyes.

6-12 months
This is the golden time in a baby’s life and more importantly in yours, Mom! A general guideline is your baby should be in his crib a solid 12 hours – maybe awake, maybe not, but, assuming your child is growing appropriately you are done providing overnight nourishment because your baby does not require it. At your baby’s six-month check-up ask your pediatrician for the go-ahead to remove nighttime feedings. And, yes, wait for it… here’s the absolute best part – a morning nap around 9:30 and an afternoon one at 2:00. The bedtime routine continues with bath pjs, story, feed, burp and lay him in his crib either with drowsy eyes or awake. See my blog post Sleep Training: 6 Easy, Guilt-free Steps  for more help!

1-2 years
Here’s where life gets a little tricky. Anywhere from 10 to 14 months your baby will begin to transition to one nap a day and it’s a really flipping hard time to be a parent because there’s no rhyme or reason for what time of day he will want to nap and for how long. What can you do to keep it together for yourself? On the short nap days put him to bed an hour earlier than usual. You’ll shift his entire routine of bath, PJs, story and crib an hour earlier, too. (At age one your baby no longer requires a bedtime feeding.) See my blog post Transition to One Nap: Your Guide for the 2-to-1 Change!

Other important tips to remember at this age to ensure a peaceful night with your toddler:
When your partner comes home don’t let the giggle tickle monster loose! This will only make your child hyper and the bedtime routine longer. Ain’t nobody got time for that. This age is a perfect time to be giving your child choices so he feels empowered and in charge of his life, thus a more malleable human. Only provide two at a time. For example, “Do you want to wear these pajamas or those?”

2+ years
As your child gets older he gets wiser and will start to test boundaries, meaning your willpower. It’s your job to remain the victor and not get sidetracked and beaten down. You may experience bedtime battles because he becomes defiant, or wants one more story or you to lay in his bed because he’s scared, you name it. He will play the “I’m not going to bed game.” I want you to know this is very normal and part of a child’s growing and becoming his own person. Your parenting job is to continue with a consistent 30-minute bedtime routine. Make sure you’re giving two choices and begin the “5, 2, 1” countdown. For example, “In five minutes we are going night-night. In two minutes we are going night-night.” Etc. This is the best tool to transition your child from what he’s happily engaged in doing to what you want him to do without tension. Try it and use it consistently throughout your day!

What’s the most important thing to remember?
This is your child’s bedtime routine Every. Single. Night. CONSISTENCY, PEOPLE! It does not matter who puts your child to bed. Whether it’s you, your partner, the babysitter or grandma, it needs to happen your way or the highway. As the parent, it’s your job to train your minions, and I highly suggest this gets written down clearly so there is zero hesitation or confusion.

How to deal with Negative Nellies
When grandma is griping when you’re leaving her house and running out the door at 6:30 to make your baby’s bedtime at 7:00 tell her this to shut down the conversation:

Sleep directly impacts mental and physical development. Our country’s children are fat and the research shows lack of sleep is the cause. Fatigue leads to less physical activity, which leads to lower calorie expenditure, which leads back to poor sleeping habits. It’s an awful vicious cycle. It’s plain and simple: children who don’t get enough sleep have greater chances of becoming obese.

When Johnny gets off his schedule, he’s a bitch to be around. I don’t want to deal with a kid having a meltdown because he’s tired. I’d rather not have him wake up stressed out crying for me and have him be set off at every little thing because we stayed out too late. I’m sorry; it’s just not worth tomorrow’s aggravation.

It’s not forever; it’s just for now. I now have a child and I must respect his needs. He needs sleep and I need to watch TV in bed so we can wake up tomorrow and enjoy each other and not be crabby because we are tired.

“We are the parents, that’s why.” I realize this is a mean, rude reason, but it’s totally true. You most likely aren’t going to say this to your parent’s face, but it’s certainly A-OK to think it and then bolt!

Now, get your kid in bed and call me in the morning if you just can’t get it together and get your kid to bed, to stay in bed, to stop waking up at the crack of dawn, to nap successfully… whatever sleep issue your family is experiencing, I can help you fix it fast!

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