Bedtime Routines that Work

Bedtime Routines that Work

11 January 2023 • Words by Samantha Weitzberg 4 mins

From the newborn stage to elementary age, your child goes through different sleep patterns that enable them to thrive, grow, and develop both physically and emotionally. As parents and caregivers, providing your child with consistent cues to signal bedtime will provide benefits for all! Just as you might have a ‘get ready for school’ routine or mealtime routine, bedtime routines that work enable children to develop a healthy relationship with sleep and all the rituals that lead up to it.

 So how do we as adults teach children good sleep habits?

The answer lies in all of the cuddles, stories, and songs that come before they climb into bed. Through a reinforced bedtime routine, children can learn how to fall asleep, stay asleep, and therefore, feel rested in the morning.

My work as an early childhood teacher (and now, a new mom to an infant) has taught me that young children learn best through hands-on experiences and with simple repetitive songs or chants.  Simple songs can provide structure and narrate experiences to teach small children how to become observers of the world around them. That’s why if you walk into an early childhood classroom around clean-up time, you’ll hear a transitional song that goes through the steps and expectations of cleaning up!

A good night song, such as The Moshi Get Ready for Bed Song (free in the Moshi Kids app), sings in a playful, upbeat way the steps necessary for your body to relax and fall asleep.

This new track will also support your child in feeling more confident in participating in the “fun” game behind bedtime, which traditionally may be a time of separation anxiety from toys and caregivers.  This song contains repetitive rhymes, which naturally catch a child’s attention and build upon a child’s foundational literacy skills to understand and remember the concept.

The use of music during bedtime can help reframe the struggle many parents have in getting their children to sleep and participating in nighttime rituals. When there is a song to structure the schedule of events leading to bedtime, it becomes something in the child’s locus of control. Dr. George Kitsaras, Ph.D., emphasizes that common bedtime routines including brushing teeth, getting into cozy pajamas, taking a warm bath or shower, reading a story or two, and cuddling are relationship-building activities. More so, these positive interactions between parent and child are bonding opportunities that increase a child’s social and emotional and prosocial development. These routines may change as your child develops, but Kitsaras suggests being consistent over time with which ones you choose to include in your child’s bedtime routine. 

Ways to Create a Healthy Bedtime Routine for Kids

Here are a couple of strategies to create a healthy bedtime routine as mentioned in The Moshi Get Ready for Bed Song: singing a bedtime song, getting into cozy pajamas and brushing teeth.

Consistent Bedtime

A consistent bedtime begins with prioritizing an actual time to go to bed. First, think about the developmentally appropriate number of hours your child needs based on age and at what time your child needs to be awake. For example, the time it would take to be up for breakfast, to get ready for school, and then leave the house for school.

Create a Fun, Yet Relaxing Routine

Once a time is established, choose a few strategies as listed above (warm bath, reading or listening to a story, etc) that work best for you and your family. These strategies can provide clues for children to learn their own sleepy cues and thus help them transition from play or meal time to rest. Ever since my son was born, my husband and I have practiced shutting off the lights, playing soft music, turning on a sound machine, and using a calming lotion while getting him into pajamas to emphasize a change from stimulation to rest. As his needs have changed, we have changed the duration of each activity and the time we begin settling him down.

Why are Routines Important for Kids?

Rituals for children are important because they allow children to develop a sense of trust and autonomy within their day-to-day lives. According to Zero to Thrive, routines and structured activities provide children with a greater understanding of their emotional health, as children navigate, adapt to, and learn to manage challenging emotions. A predictable bedtime routine provides opportunities to practice self-regulation. It also builds up an early understanding of resilience, because your child will learn what to expect daily and can adapt with greater flexibility as things change with each stage.

As parents, it is also important to use visuals and tools, such as music to support your child in adhering to the terms surrounding the bedtime routine. Young children can learn to regulate challenging emotions such as fear by knowing that a caregiver is in the next room or that a special stuffed animal joins the bed when it’s time to go to sleep.  Consistency, physical cues, and structure all set the scene for a solid sleep routine, as well as communication with each caregiver or babysitter who will carry out this routine.

For many years as a teenager, I would babysit the neighborhood children. Each family had a different bedtime routine, but all that included a set bedtime, connection, music, and the expectation that they must remain in their own bed after the final “good night”. Following the child’s lead and guidance during the nighttime routine was essential in getting them to feel secure about falling asleep without their parents.

According to WebMD, setting a regular bedtime and wake time as discussed can provide you, another caregiver, and your child with expectations around the routine of sleep.

When starting a new bedtime routine think of the simple rituals that you are already doing that lead up to your child falling asleep. These are things that they may already associate with bedtime, such as changing into pajamas and washing up in the bathroom. When preparing for bedtime, think about the bedroom environment. What does it look and feel like? Is it quiet? Consider playing quiet music, dimming the lights or turning on a nightlight while preparing your child to get into bed. These changes will guide your child to anticipate sleep and expect that getting ready for bed means play, meals, and the day itself is coming to an end.

As your bedtime routine becomes solidified into your child’s daily life, the benefits of a healthy sleep routine including improved memory, attention, executive functioning, and mood, will become evident. With tracks like The Moshi Get Ready for Bed Song, the bedtime structure can be playful and less stressful for both you and your child.

Samantha Weitzberg

Samantha Weitzberg, RYCT, RYT, is an early childhood teacher, yoga instructor, and mindfulness leader living in New York. She is also a first-time mom to a baby boy, but has been a puppy mom for a while.