I received some great feedback from my first blog, thank you. I’m thrilled to be able to reach more parents with tips to help them achieve blissful nights.
This month I decided to give you some advice on how you can maintain a nice, calm bedtime routine.
Two Bedtime Stories
The last thing any parent wants at the end of a long day are tears, negotiations, or stress, this won’t set a good tone for the night and no one wants to end the day like this. So, I’m going to give you some advice that can help avoid the bedtime meltdown.
For years I’ve recommended that parents use two bedtime stories as part of their child’s bedtime routine.
I personally start to include two stories as part of the bedtime routine at around 6 months old, when baby can stay awake a little longer and is more alert and responsive. I generally move away from the bedtime playlist and I bring in the books. Obviously at this young age you won’t be reading “The Gruffalo” or “Room on the Broom”, but a short and sweet book such as “Guess How Much I Love You” or “Goodnight Moon” are examples of the stories I have used.
Reading a young baby two books has a few benefits such as:-
- Allowing them a little extra time to digest their bedtime feed. Also, some babies take longer to wind than others. At 6 months old they usually have a stronger core and wind is brought easily, but for certain babies it can take a little longer. When they are relaxed in your arms and distracted during story-time you’ll often find they bring up their wind without any issue.
- The stories also allow more time in the bedroom before the actual bedtime, this can help wind the baby down in preparation for sleep. Children don’t generally respond well to being in the living room with lights and tv on one moment and popped into the cot the next. The more sleep cues and associations that you have in place will help your baby know when sleep time is approaching.
- If you have been in work all day and your little one has been in day care or with a minder this is lovely, low stimulation, one on one, quality time that you can spend with your baby.
- Having two stories from this age helps your baby as they grow older and this consistent approach will help avoid negotiations later on … bringing me on to my next point …
Bedtime for Toddlers
Ahh toddlers — favourite words are “no” and “more”. They are so very clever, mischievous, and fun. Toddlers love routine, they thrive on consistency, and they test boundaries which is perfectly normal. How you react to their demands can cause confusion so think before you respond … will your action potentially cause confusion later on?
During consultations many parents report to me that their beautiful 30minute bedtime routine has now turned into a two hour bedtime endurance trial as their little one wants another story and another … and another. No one likes saying no to a little one but when it’s encroaching into their sleep time then we have to try to get the bedtimes back on track.
So what can we do?
- First off review the number of books available at bedtime. For a toddler a choice of eight books is perfectly fine. If you have 40 on display then choosing a book itself can become an evening activity.
- You can hide away some of the books so when your little one tires of one or the same few you can swap them out. Its also a good idea to have some books in the playroom area to create interest in reading during the daytime.
- You can ask your little one to choose two stories or you can say “Ok, you choose one and daddy / mammy will choose one”. (I usually let the child choose one and then their comfort teddy gets to pick one).
- Once the stories are over and you have decided that you are going to limit them to two then please be consistent. Your little one doesn’t understand why, on Friday night when you are in a good mood and relaxed that they can have six stories, but on Monday night they can only have two because you’ve had a tough day in the office.
You may feel that only two books are a little stingy and you may decide that four stories are ideal for your family. Whatever you choose, please stay consistent to avoid your little one becoming confused and having arguments and stress before bed. Once you’re consistent a child usually doesn’t even look for more, they are happy when they know how the routine will flow.
Bear in mind most parents can easily manage two stories even when you’re tired, or when your little one is exhausted. If you go on holidays it’s also a good idea to bring a few of their favourite stories with you to help them settle in to a new location.
Tip: If your little one has been having extending story times for some time this can be a helpful adjustment:- you could place the books on the landing then en route to the bedroom choose your two stories and bring only those books into the bedroom so that the other books are out of sight, out of mind.
Two Parents at Bedtime
It’s natural that both parents want to be involved in the bedtime routine, but it can sometimes cause unnecessary tears.
I encourage both parents to take turns, when possible, doing the bedtime routine, but using the same sleep cues and associations. I often receive emails from parents who report that their child “will only go to sleep for Mummy/Daddy”. The other parent wants to help but the child may not respond well. This is tricky for the parent who “can” do bedtime as they don’t have an evening off, but it’s also tough for the parent who “can’t” as they want to help at bedtime but they find it difficult.
The bedtime routine does not have to be in the exact same order, as long as it’s similar in timing and sleep cues then baby will be fine. For example, with a breastfed baby, a mommy may do the bath, breastfeed and songs/stories on her evenings on in the bedroom. On daddy’s nights on, mammy may feed the baby downstairs and then daddy can do the bath, stories etc and place baby down for bed. Some breastfeeding moms express whilst baby is in the bath and then daddy can give the bottle at bedtime.
Having the flexibility allows both parents to have that quality time with baby at the end of the day and then both parents are confident to bring their baby to bed.
Don’t Tag Team
When parents are having difficulties with bedtime, I don’t recommend that parents “tag team” during the routine. Without purposely doing it you may stimulate, confuse or upset your child. I suggest that the parent who is not doing bedtime say goodnight to baby / toddler before the routine, and the other does the entire routine.
For toddlers, especially, this is helpful. If you have finished stories and they are looking for some delay tactics … “I didn’t say nynight to dada,” this is a wish that is difficult to deny if it’s true and you reluctantly summon dada for another bedtime kiss … And then potentially another demand of another story etc etc.
But if your little one is used to saying goodnight to mama / dada before the other parent does bedtime then, well its ok to say “you already gave mama / dada a kiss, they will come in later and check on you; its night time”, then you avoid a nightly tantrum.
Be aware of how sensitive your child is at this time of the evening. They are not trying to be naughty; they are usually confused. One night all of their requests are met and the next night you are saying “no” or “enough” and this can really confuse them. By being consistent doesn’t mean you love your child any less, it means that you trying to avoid confusion and tears at bedtime.
Obviously, this advice doesn’t apply to all families, but these are areas I help parents with on a weekly basis and I thought I’d share some tips. Remember, every child is unique, every family different, what works for one family doesn’t always work for the next and most importantly; It’s ok to ask for help.
I hope you found this useful.