Taking care of children the whole day is hardwork and as bedtime draws closer, the tired parent rejoices inwardly. However, bedtime can also be a tricky part with children who cannot understand their own weariness and need for rest and sleep. Yet, you, the parent, knows that rest and sleep is so important for your child’s growth and rejuvenation.
Here, we share some tips to get the little ones to Dreamland and give the adults some much needed reprieve. But success ultimately relies on consistency in the bedtime routine and time allocated to it, to give your total presence to your children for this important time together. When you give proper time for this ritual, the bedtime routine can be a really relaxing experience and help your child to wind down. Too often, in Singapore, our biggest enemy is in filling our days too full with activities for the children and this can make the bedtime routine a token procedure, which would really work against its success.
The Classic: Bedtime Bath, Storytime, Bedtime Milk, Brushing Teeth
This is the classic routine that most swear by. Try to start at the same time every day. The bath should be a warm bath to relax the children’s muscles and wash their tiredness away. For a truly relaxing experience, add some quality bubble bath with essential oils like lavender, chamomile and ylang ylang. Do not introduce bath toys at this point to avoid it becoming a time of riotous fun. Instead, teach them to lie back and float in the water, enjoying the scented water, and enjoy swirling the bubbles together in a rhythmic way. A little backrub or head massage would also help the little ones relax.
When the bath is all done and the children all comfortably dressed in their pyjamas, share a book or two together. Young children do well with calmer storylines and might even want the same favourite book for their bedtime story every night, while older children do well with chapter stories, as the interest to know how the story unfolds in the next chapter gets them motivated to come to bedtime. Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree is a good choice. Limit the books to two per night, so as not to prolong the bedtime routine. Read the story with expression and conviction to engage the children’s interest. If you find them in rapt attention and empathising with the characters, you have done a good job. At the end of the story, talk about the story a bit, be it about the characters, the moral of the story, or the development in the next chapter. Make storytime count, so that it becomes a well-loved part of bedtime.
Having a bedtime drink is another step that signals to the children that it’s time for bed. Warm milk can help one fall asleep and sleep better, due to the amino acid tryptophan found in it, which helps promote the sleep-inducing hormone melanin. Once the milk is finished, the routine ends with the brushing of teeth. Done consistently over a few nights, children would naturally associate this routine with bedtime and would soon drift off to sleep easily.
After you switch off the lights, you might want to play some gentle music as a sort of lullaby to help the children to drift off to sleep. There are many versions of classical music arranged for children in the market these days. Again, consistency helps here – playing the same few songs every night will help to signal to your child’s mind and body that it is time to sleep and surrender to the night. You can choose either to play songs from your playlist, or download a bedtime music application, or use a bedtime music toy to play this wind-down music.
Saying Goodnight to the Child’s Favourite Friends
If the child has some soft toys in the room or wall stickers, you can get him to say goodnight to his “friends”. Explain to your child that by saying goodnight to his toys/sticker characters, he is helping them to go to sleep, so that they will be rested and have energy to play with him the next day. If he has a favourite toy, he can tuck that toy to bed right beside him. Besides becoming part of the sleep routine, this gives the child ownership of his own sleep-time process and helps him to understand the purpose and importance of sleep
Bedtime Relaxing Exercise
Young children love tactile activities. Get your child to lie on his back, close his eyes and place a small soft ball between his back and the floor. Tell him to slowly roll the ball around his back. This really relaxes the body muscles and will help him to relax. Next, in the same position, breathe deeply but evenly. Ask him to count his breaths and listen to it coming out of his mouth. Do this at least 10 times, lengthening the time between counts. You can give him a little massage on his legs after he is done – do it gently and slowly, but firmly. Use a bit of lotion to help him relax; a nicely scented one does this beautifully. Then, count backwards from 10, breathing deeply and evenly again. With any luck, your child might already have fallen asleep in the middle of the exercise.
Cuddle Time & a Lullaby
Some children want a bit of cuddle time with Mum and Dad before falling asleep. If your child is like that, do take five minutes before leaving the room, to give your child a hug. If yours like to linger, you can sing one lullaby. Stick to the same song every night – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is great – and your child would learn to associate this song with the end of your time together and time for rest and sleep.
Expend Their Energy During in the Day
While we look at strategies to help them wind down, we should not forget that our daytime activities play a role in a good and successful bedtime. Our young ones have a lot of energy to expend. And the fact that the child sleeps better once he has started school is clear evidence of this. Bearing this concept in mind, do engage your child in energetic activities in the day. A turn in the playground, cycling in the park, going for a swim, having a playdate are all wonderful opportunities that also promote bonding time with your children, not to mention taking them away from electronic, addictive digital devices.
Limit Naptime in the Day
In the same regard, limit or shorten the naptime in the day, once you sense your child needing less rest in the day. Too long a naptime will mean less need for rest at night and a later bedtime for both him and you! The nap should be just enough to give his tired body a rest, but not be so much as to make bedtime at night later.
Hopefully, our sharing will be the start of a good night’s rest for you and your child. The key is sticking to a consistent routine, doing the same things in order and at the same time. Above all, if your child resists your departure from his side, be firm in telling him to stay in bed. Good luck and sweet dreams!