Creating a bedtime routine is not as hard as you might think. Babies and children love routines because it helps them know what is coming next. (If the world were as new to you as it is to young children, you'd be glad of routines, too.) When you and your child follow a schedule that includes a set routine each night, your child gains a secure feeling in knowing what to expect.
In the early weeks of your child's life, you pretty much have to follow her schedule. Still, it may not be too early to begin a habit that may help you both in the long run. It's natural, of course, to hold or rock your baby to make her sleepy. This closeness is beneficial for both of you. If you continue to hold her until she is asleep, however, you may find she is unable to fall asleep on her own if she awakens at night. And that, obviously, can cause sleep problems for you both down the road. The solution: Hold her or rock her until she's sleepy but not yet asleep, then put her in her crib. This way, she will learn to associate her crib, rather than your arms, with sleep.
By the time your baby's about three months of age, try to establish a routine for meals, play, and sleep time. Once you set the routine in motion, it is important to stick with it, otherwise it will have little of the desired effect.
The purpose of the bedtime routine is to get your mind and body ready for sleep. The routine of taking a bath, listening to soft music, reading, brushing your teeth, or whatever you choose to do, gradually tells your mind it's time for sleep. It's a relaxing way to wind down from a busy day. That's exactly what you seek to accomplish for your child in establishing a bedtime routine. The routine you set up also puts sleep patterns into place that your child may follow for many years.
When setting up the bedtime routine, keep two things in mind:
- Leave plenty of time to walk through the routine without hurrying. End your time together calmly and quietly. Rushing through the routine or pushing your child to hurry defeats the purpose of the routine. In addition, never send your child to bed as a punishment; it only fosters negative associations with bed and bedtime.
- End the bedtime routine in your child's bedroom. This communicates that the whole routine, from start to finish, is about going to sleep. Over time, the routine itself may help make your child sleepy.
It may not be necessary to go through the entire sleep routine at nap time. In fact, you should abbreviate the routine to one or two items such as reading one story or listening to one song. While some children can nap anywhere, others may feel more secure in their own bed. It might help to give her something familiar to sleep with such as the stuffed animal or blanket she uses at night. Whenever possible, encourage your child to nap at about the same time each day. This helps establish and reinforce a regular wake-sleep rhythm.
On the next page, learn how make bedtime pleasant, instead of an ordeal, and how to help your child fall asleep.
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