28 August 2021
Routine and rituals for bedtime for little ones are crucial, change causes a big disruption in their little worlds and can result in bad sleeping habits or struggles with bedtime in general.
How Can We Prepare Them For Bedtime?
Routine, routine, routine! Consistency is key, little ones flourish in boundaries and knowing what to expect. Even though you have probably done the same thing 100 times, they have no concept of time, and never tire of rituals as it provides them with so much security.
- Draw up a little chart for them to visually see cues for how the routine is going to roll out. For instance: images of dinner, bath, pajamas, book, cuddles, nightlight, goodnight. Let them collaborate on this with you – choosing the colours or pictures of the chart, or ticking off the step as it is completed. This will minimise the struggle and allow them to feel in control and accept what’s coming.
- Follow through with physical cues that you are winding down to bed. Close their blinds, put on their night-lights, or sound machines – their bodies will unconsciously respond to these cues and begin to wind down independently. Follow this up with verbal warnings so they have enough time to prepare for it: “It is almost bedtime.” “In 10 minutes, we are going to bed.” Or set a timer or alarm on your phone for 10 minutes and then 5 minutes, so they know that is their cue to get going.
- Narrate the routine before it begins, “Daddy is going to give you a bath and dress you in the pajamas that you choose, and then Mommy is going to read you a book. We will both give you a big cuddle and a kiss and say goodnight to you. We will turn on your nightlight and leave the room so you can have a good night’s rest.”
- Another opportunity for age-appropriate choice and control – is providing them with two small choices (no more – you don’t want to overwhelm them) related to their bedtime routine. Layout two sets of pajamas or two books, and let them choose which one they want to wear or read.
- Keep your boundaries around bedtime consistent, stay calm and confident. Boundaries make them feel safe, and they respond to your energy of confidence and consistency.
What Do I Do When They Keep Calling Me Back?
Toddlers love to push boundaries, but what they are actually seeking is for you to enforce the boundary they are testing. Try the “Call me 3 times” approach.
They are allowed to call you back 3 times for their needs – water, blanket or a wee for instance. Verbalise this:
1. “You have called Mommy back for water, that is 1.”
2. “You have called Mommy back for a blanket, that is 2. You can only call me back one more time.”
3. “You have called Mommy back for the last time, for a hug. Mommy loves you very much, but it is time for you to sleep. You have everything you need, and I will see you in the morning.”
What About Nightmares or Night Terrors?
Nightmares or night terrors are a sign of their imagination progressing, which is great, but it also means that they are not yet able to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy. It could also be if something big has changed in their life – this can leave them feeling insecure or fearful – it could be the start of school, potty training or a change in routine.
I suffered from terrible nightmares and terrors when I was small, and talking from experience, they really are terrifying. This, therefore, requires a gentler and tolerating approach.
- Don’t ask them what’s wrong or what the nightmare was about or delve into specifics, this keeps them in the dream longer, and it makes it feel more real to them.
- Communicate, “Mommy / Daddy here. You are in your room, in bed. You are safe. I am here with you.”
- Try not to move them into your bed as it reinforces the idea that their room isn’t safe, and their fears are justified. Instead, turn their pillow over or tuck them back into bed, to remind them that they are in bed and to create a subtle change from the nightmare they were having. Stroke their back repeating the above until they fall asleep again.
- Review some of the reasons these dreams could be occurring. Are they overtired? Overstimulated with TV before bed? Are their bedtime books opening up their imagination a bit too much before bed? Are they sick, stressed, or transitioning into a new change developmentally? Is there too much sugar in their diet?
- Release the power of the nightmare the next day in the light of day – if they want to talk about it, it will give you insight into what is scaring them and help to mitigate that cause or fear going forward.
- As fun as it sounds, the monster spray you can make or a monster sweep before bed is not a good idea. It makes the fear a real thing, that they need protection from. We want to squash that fear and show it is not real. We also don’t want to see this becoming a form of bedtime entertainment!
- Playing in the dark can also help to build fun associations with the dark- for instance, glow-in-the-dark stars or a torch treasure hunt, or a night-time tea party all help to diminish the fear of night-time.
What I can tell you is that this is a phase, and they will grow out of nightmares, bad sleeping, and feeling unsettled with bedtime. Stick to your boundaries and the consistency of routine, before you know it, they’ll be sleeping through the night!
I hope this helps to provide you with the confidence to empower your beautiful tiny tot. Remember these are just my own thoughts, learnings, understanding, and practical tips I apply and feel work best, everyone is different, and you need to do what is right for you and your tot.
Teacher Amy! x
Amy Stevens, more affectionately known as Teacher Amy is a qualified foundation phase and early childhood development teacher. Her mornings involve running a private play school in Sea Point, Cape Town and in the afternoons she offers in-home learning support sessions for children between the ages of 1.5 to 8 years old.