Children always do best when they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. It is easier for them to stay calm and behave well when they know this than when they are surprised by things or when we throw them into a new situation where they just don’t know what the rules are or how things work.
If you’ll be taking your child to a doctor’s appointment, or they’ll be having medical tests done, or getting a vaccine, it’s worth taking the time to prepare them well. Here are some helpful tips:
This article on preparing for a doctor visit includes specific tips, like what positions to hold your child in for their comfort, children’s books and videos about going to the doctor, details on preparing for a blood draw and Flash cards that illustrate medical equipment and procedures. Some of it is presented as for autistic children but I believe most children benefit from this sort of preparation
I discovered a helpful tool for infant feeding from birth to 12 months. Pathway’s Feeding Checklist. In the “feeding milestones” column it lists milestones to look for to see whether your child is ready for the next stage of feeding – these milestones are a better guide for when to start solids than age is. Then it suggests appropriate foods and offers other tips. Check it out!
Routines are very powerful tools for kids – although you may not think of them as a discipline tool, they absolutely are. When kids know what to expect and what’s expected of them, it is so much easier for them to do well! Routines are especially important around the big transitions in the day – getting up and out the door in the morning, mealtimes, and bedtime.
This post is about one sample bedtime routine. It’s not meant as the “Single Best Bedtime Routine for All Children Every Where.” Because there is no such thing, because every child is different and every family circumstance is different. But it may give you some insight with where to start building your routine.
Where to Start
Maybe you already have a bedtime routine that’s working for you and your family, but you’re not sure if you’re “doing it right.” Or, if you searched for a post on bedtime routines, it’s more likely that your current bedtime routine is not working for you.
How would you know if you have a sleep problem?
Don’t listen to outsiders on this one: it doesn’t matter what your friend, neighbor, or mother-in-law thinks. It doesn’t matter if what you do is different than the advice you read on some website or in some book. It matters how you feel! If your routine is working for you, your partner, and your child, then NO, you don’t have a sleep problem. If, however, you, your partner, or your child are miserable, stressed out, sleep-deprived, frequently ill, resentful or just tired of the situation, then take steps to fix the problem!
Assessing the Current Situation
If your routine is working, don’t expect that you can make a simple switch and overnight everything will be magically fixed. It takes a while to adjust to new habits.
It helps to start off by thinking about where you are now and where you want to get to.
Spend a few days keeping a journal of what you are currently doing, and see what the patterns are. Then write down what your ideal schedule would be. How are those different? Make a one-step-at-a-time plan for how to move in that direction. (For example, if your child stays up till 9:00 or 9:15 every night, you can’t declare that “starting tomorrow, you must go to sleep at 7:30.” But, you could do bedtime at 9:00 one night, 8:50 the next, 8:40 the next, and so on.)
One thing to watch for during these journaling days: when does your child show tired cues? As they near the end of their day, do they have a quiet time, where maybe they get bleary-eyed, rub their eyes, yawn, snuggle down and rest a lot? If you settle them down when they’re in this state, it can go easily. If you miss this “magic window of opportunity”, then often they get a wave of energy. I’ve worked with many parents who say their child is full of energy – wild and wired and running around crashing into things at 10:00. That doesn’t mean they “want” to stay up till 10:00. That might mean that you missed the tired cues they showed at 7:00 and their adrenaline kicked in to keep them going.
Figure out when your child’s internal clock hits its sleepy time in the evening. Try to start your wind-down time before that so you’re ready for the bedtime routine when it hits. Lots of kids will go from tired-but-not-yawning to yawning to overtired-wild-child if you wait too long.
Once you know your current routines, start working on taking steps toward a new one. Here are some ideas to get there.
Create a sleep-supporting environment
It’s worth putting thought into what best helps your child sleep. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money to get these things, but think about how to best re-purpose what you have or can find cheaply.
A comfy bed and pillow
The right sheets and blankets. Our whole family loves flannel sheets year round. We discovered when my son was a toddler that sleeps much more deeply with a fleecy blanket than with a puffy bedspread. We discovered when he was 5 or 6 that he sleeps even better with a weighted blanket in a fleecy cover. (He’s autistic and finds the weight to be comforting.) Your child might be different – they might overheat at night and love their jersey knit sheets and lightweight duvet.
White noise? Music? Many children sleep better with a white noise machine (or a fan running) or with quiet music playing at bedtime.
Nightlights? My oldest child could sleep without a nightlight but Mr. Turtle made him happy so we used it off and on. Then when my daughter was little, I remember seeing research that showed use of night lights was linked to early puberty (and now they say blue light from screens on devices might be as well), so we avoided night lights. Now as an adult, she has a hard time falling asleep when there’s any light in her vicinity. My youngest likes the light on in the hallway. And he had a period at age 10 where he was having a lot of night-time anxiety that was stopping him from sleeping. I asked him what would help and he said a disco light! I thought that sounded crazy – but it turned out it worked great. Watching the swirly lights distracted his anxious ADHD brain just enough that he could settle down.
Stuffed animals and toys? For a baby under 1 year old there should be no soft items in the crib. But for older children, you can make the choices that work best for you and them.
So yes, do think about creating the best sleep environment. Think about having multiple sleep “cues” that help cue your child to settle down. However, don’t let anything become a sleep “crutch” without which they can’t sleep! For example, your child might usually have: bedtime music, bedtime story, pajamas, a favorite stuffed animal and snuggles with you. But not always all of them… that way if one night you can’t find the stuffed animal they can still sleep. Or if you’re travelling, and forgot pajamas, they’re still able to fall asleep in their clothes. Or if you leave them with a babysitter they’re still able to fall asleep. We practice rotating out items so that none of them are absolutely essential.
Wind down routine
The original version of the illustration at the top of this post had 8 steps in it. That’s too many steps for a bedtime routine, I like separating thing into two chunks. Wind down may take 30 – 45 minutes. The bedtime routine might take 10 – 15.
For wind-down time: turn off screens (videos, video games) or at least switch to blue shade, turn down the lights in the room, turn down the heat (cooling down signals the body that it’s time to sleep), and turn down the activity level. (No rough-housing or big physical activity right before bed.) Consider an evening snack or bath time, whatever best helps them and you let go of daytime energy and settle down.
I like to have a four or five step routine that I teach to my child. I might make a poster with pictures of the steps on it as a visual signal. I reinforce the routine by talking about “this is how we always do things. Remember, we always have four things we do before bed. What are they?” A preschooler should be able to recite the four steps.
I will sometimes give a last chance alert before we start that routine: “it’s almost bedtime – is there anything you need to do before we start our routine.” That gives them that last chance to have a snack or find a toy or finish something up – that way they can’t ask for that later because you already gave them this chance. But set a time limit on this option… like “I’m going to start the timer and in five minutes you need to walk away from the Legos even if it’s not done.” Or, if my son asked for a snack at his five minute notice, he couldn’t choose a snack that takes a long time to eat or prepare. He could choose what we jokingly called the “suck it down” snacks: yogurt tube, applesauce packet or a cheese stick.
In our family, when my son was in preschool, our steps were: going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, bedtime math and two stories, music on / lights out. The process takes 10 to 15 minutes and then we’re done and out of other options for the day. If they’re dawdling, use a when / then: “when you’ve brushed your teeth, we get to read stories and I’m really looking forward to that.” If they continue to resist, use an if / then: “if you don’t finish in the next two minutes, then I can only read one book, and that would make us both sad.”
Whatever your routine, you gotta stick to it! Clear limits are really important. For example, we always read two bedtime stories. NEVER more. If kids learn some nights you’ll read 5 stories, they’ll ask for 5 every night!
If they learn that every time you turn off the light and walk away all they have to do is ask for a snack you’ll come back, they’ll ask every night.
How to Respond When They Get Back Up
Now, just because you set up this plan for a routine doesn’t mean it magically works the first time. It takes a while and a lot of consistency on your part to make it stick.
After the bedtime routine, your child may try to “escape” from bed. Don’t let them, because if you let them escape once they’ll try every night… Instead, every time they get up, calmly and gently pick them up, stating simply “It’s now your bedtime, you need to be in bed. I will see you in the morning.” And place them back in bed. No long lectures, no anger, just a matter-of-fact unbreakable rule. Use a when/then: “when you do a good job at bedtime, then we get to do [something fun] tomorrow.” If they continue to escape, use logical consequences: “if you get up again, then….”
We just stick with it till it sticks. So, make sure you’ve set a bedtime plan that is something you can stick with reliably, even if you yourself are tired or sick or busy or whatever. Consistency is key. Over time it will become how things work in your family.
I do need to caution that even once your bedtime routine is well established, it doesn’t mean there won’t be days when it fails. (We expect sleep regressions around big developmental changes (periods of disequilibrium) daylight savings time, or the night before a big event when they’re excited, or on trips or other changes to the routine.) When those changes happen, the best way to get back on track is to ground yourself in the routine. It will evolve and adapt as your child grows, but it’s a reliable and comforting thing to return to for both of you.
As a parent of a young child, you may be actively seeking parenting advice – looking at books and blogs, listening to podcasts or searching on YouTube at midnight or taking parenting classes. Or even if you didn’t seek out advice, it comes to you in the form of unsolicited comments from people at the grocery store, your friends, or your own parents.
It can be overwhelming, especially when the advice is conflicting. When one person say “you always have to do X” and someone else says “you should never do X because…”
I’ve always said that if you get ten pieces of parenting advice, you’ll eliminate one or two right off because you think “whoo, that sounds like a ton of work! I just don’t have the time / energy / money for that.” You might hear one that you think “oh, that just doesn’t seem smart / safe…” But that still leaves a bunch of ideas that seem do-able but you’re not sure which to try first.
Here are some questions to get you thinking critically about the advice you hear, and figuring out whether the advice is a good fit for your family at this time:
What is the source of the information:
What is their training? Professional experience?
Have they had their own children? Have they worked directly with lots of babies in day-to-day life (i.e. not just in a clinic setting)?
Is the advice based on research? (Do they cite their sources?) Or is it based on real-world experience? Or a combination of the two?
What is their motivation for sharing this advice – will they profit or benefit in some way if you take that advice? (For example, do they say the only way to solve a problem is to buy their product?)
Do they share some of your social identities (e.g. race, religion, sexuality, class) or are they speaking from a very different life history?
Is it relevant?
Does the advice apply to your child’s current age / developmental stage?
Does the information fit (or can it be adapted) to your lifestyle, economic means, work patterns and other practical considerations?
Does the advice align with your cultural values or religious practices?
How does the advice make you feel?
Is it it respectful – do you feel that the author / speaker respects that you have your own wisdom or do you feel that they’re talking down to / patronizing you?
Is it fear-based? Lots of people trying to sell parents something (whether that’s a product, a service, or just their ideas) use fear as the motivator – “if you don’t do X, then your child will never _____.” (FYI, children are remarkably resilient, and there are few things which are actually this critical.)
Or does it over promise? “If you do this, we guarantee your child will sleep through the night and will never throw a tantrum again.” (Nothing is that magical!)
Does it feel do-able – you can imagine actually doing it and being successful at it?
Is it flexible?
In my experience as a parent and as a parent educator, we are always needing to adapt and accommodate. We may be traveling or have visitors or our child might be in the middle of a growth spurt or we’ve got a stomach bug or what worked for our child last week doesn’t work this week or…
Any advice that is very rigid and implies that there is only one right way to do something and you can never vary it in any way just doesn’t seem realistic to me, and I never quite trust that the speaker has much experience with children if they don’t know everything has to be adapted to the unique needs of the moment.
Does it fit?
Really, the final question is: does the advice feel like a good fit for you? Does it seem like something you can imagine doing and doing consistently? If so, give the idea a try. If not, continue to seek ideas from other reputable sources till you find the answers that feel right for your family’s unique needs.
I just want to end with a comment on unsolicited advice. Someone told me that in their mind anytime someone gives them advice, it’s really meant as criticism that they’re not doing a good job. Someone else says that all unsolicited advice feels like “mansplaining” or like the speaker is condescending, assuming that they know everything and you know nothing.
I will grant that some people do these things.
However, I think that most people giving parenting advice mean well. In many cases, they have lived through their own parenting challenges, just like you – they often felt incompetent and overwhelmed, and then they found something that worked for them!! They were so excited and relieved by that experience that they now ‘spread the gospel’ about the idea to random parents they see on the street.
My approach is I listen to all advice I’m given and I evaluate it. Some is sheer nonsense that I shrug off. Some may not be useful to me at that time but I imagine someday it could be, so I store it away for future reference. And sometimes… that unsolicited advice is exactly what I need to solve a challenge I am currently facing, and I’m so glad the person decided to share it. It’s always worth having new ideas.
This post is for parents of babies who live in Washington State… and the professionals who work with them!
Are you looking for:
A fun place filled with fascinating objects for your baby to safely explore as they develop new skills?
A social time where you can learn songs to sing and games to play with your baby?
Opportunities to meet other families, build community, and get emotional support?
Research-based education about parenting skills and child development?
Personalized advice from an expert on ways to manage your unique parenting challenges?
You can find all these great opportunities in one place! (And, even better, the programs offer parent-child classes for families of children up to age 3, and cooperative preschools for age 3 to 5, so they could serve your needs for many years to come.)
What are Parent Education programs?
Each of our local community colleges sponsors a parent education program, where parents attend with their infants and toddlers. The children have the opportunity for play-based learning: free exploration of developmentally appropriate toys, sensory activities (like water tables), and art activities in a safe, familiar environment – the best conditions for learning.
Meanwhile, parents attend parent education sessions, with topics tailored to the age of the child. In an infant class, that will include: sleep, crying, nutrition, early learning, emotional development, daily routines, becoming the parent you want to be., and more. Class also includes circle time, a chance for parents and children to learn songs and rhymes that children love.
Programs meet for a full school year, September through May. This gives you and your child a chance to develop long-term connections. (You can often join mid-year if there is space available.)
Learn more, and register now, with your local college. The age range for classes is based on how old your baby was/will be on September 1 when the class begins.
Bellevue College – offers infant classes (0 to 9 months) and wobblers (9 to 15 months) on the BC campus.
Edmonds CC – Offers infant class for 4 – 12 month olds on the Edmonds campus.