Time for bed…

By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris

Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children

Young children have busy days. They must negotiate the hustle and bustle of family life and pre-school or nursery sessions. At the end of the day, families reconvene as they return from work, nursery or school. The evening meal is prepared, homework done, and household chores completed. The adults in the household have an end goal in sight where they can let go of their busy day and relax. Children’s bedtime is usually the last hurdle to overcome, but just as the adults in the household need routine to put the day behind them and ‘switch off’, so too do young children.

It’s not easy to achieve a consistent bedtime routine. Every family is different, and each day presents a unique set of circumstances, but there are some things that can help. Here are our six top tips to building a bedtime routine:

  1. Carve out family time: Young children need time to simply ‘be’ with parents or carers towards the end of the day. Mealtimes are important social occasions where a family can come together and share their news, or just listen to the conversations happening around the table. It’s a good time to put away mobile phones and connect with each other instead.
  2. Time your meal right: When this meal takes place is also important and sometimes leads to ‘scheduling’ difficulties! Large meals should be eaten around two hours before bedtime. Eating a meal close to bedtime can affect the time that it takes to fall asleep, so try to get that family meal in early if your child’s bedtime is around 7pm. Or you could schedule an earlier meal for the children and just sit and talk to them whilst they eat.
  3. Do’s and Don’ts of snacking: Sometimes your little one will say that they are hungry just before bedtime and want a snack. There are two reasons for this, they are trying to delay going to bed, or they really are hungry! A small snack can be given just before bedtime if you think hunger is the cause, but make it a snack that is not high in sugar and might actually help with sleep, such as a banana or drink of milk.
  4. Take time for a bath: Bathtime is another opportunity to connect. It should not be hurried, but a time for playing and talking as the day slows down towards bedtime.
  5. Put away mobile devices: Screen time in the hour before bed can have a negative impact. This includes television, iPads and laptops. The body releases a hormone called melatonin as it prepares for sleep, the blue light emitted by screens delays the release of melatonin and consequently disrupts the body’s natural bedtime routine.
  6. Read a story together: Story time with your child is essential for many reasons. It helps to increase young children’s vocabulary and promotes a love of stories and reading that will last a lifetime. A bedtime story is the ultimate wind-down at bedtime. Your child feels secure and relaxed knowing they have their parent/carer’s full attention – all is well with the world and they can drift off to sleep.
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