You have: one boisterous little human. You want: them to be delightfully calm at bedtime and drift off to sleep immediately. You need: a block of Top Deck, probably. But also, some very helpful advice from two very talented sleep yodas (who also happen to be mums).
Do you really need a routine? (You do.)
Because kids love repetition. (Just think how many times you’ve watched Moana. SO MANY.) When your child knows what to expect (and what’s expected of them), they learn to anticipate and trust bedtime, instead of it becoming one big fight every night. Phew. Introducing certain activities as part of your little rascal’s transition from dinner to bed, will help to create an evening routine that’s fun, and adaptable, and ridiculously calming.
Have a toothbrush party.
Really, a party before bed? Yes! Will there be creaming soda? No! This is your chance to add a bit of fun to the not-so-popular part of bedtime that is teeth brushing. After dinner, invite the whole family into the bathroom to clean their chompers. And be sure to instruct them: Teeth brushing is very serious! Not a laughing matter! No one may chuckle! (Not even the grown-ups.) Of course, no one can tell kids what to do. So, there will be plenty of laughter, which means plenty of mouths wide open, and plenty of opportunity for you to get in there and make sure those whites are extra pearly.
Create some time for quiet play.
It might seem counterintuitive, but play is a big stress reliever for kids. So, finding a moment to incorporate quiet play before bed can actually be very calming. If you have bubbles on hand, try finding a comfy, dimly lit space where you can relax with your little one and blow some bubbles. You can let them choose a few soft, soothy tunes to play while they lay back and watch the bubbles float freely overhead. Or if you’re after more quiet play ideas, try these.
Choose a book before bed.
After play, storytime is a terrific way to re-set, clear the mind, and relax before sleep. Kids don’t get a whole lot of choices at bedtime, so letting them select their own book is a great way to give them some agency. (But only if it doesn’t take until midnight for them to decide!) Another option is to tell your own astonishingly creative story, or have fun with finger puppets. The kids will give you full marks for your enthusiasm, and it’s a handy way to distract from everything on your night-time to-do list. (Laundry, washing up, lunch prep. Netflix.)
Try your hand at a soothing night-time massage.
This incredibly calming mini routine is perfect for helping babies and young children unwind. Before you start any massage with your little one, it is important to ‘check in’ to make sure that this is the right time. You can simply ask, “Would you like to have a massage?” And if your child is under 18 months, look for engagement cues: Is your baby feeling content? Are they engaging with a smile, a mutual gaze, or an arm reaching out for a cuddle? If this is not the time, don’t force it! There’s always tomorrow. You might want to use an oil or moisturising lotion to make the whole experience more delightful (and nice smelling), just be sure to always patch test first – important! And if your child has any medical concerns, get clearance from your medical practitioner before you massage.
Banish any night frights.
If a fear of lights-out is preventing your kid from drifting off into a sweet, deep sleep, it might be helpful to comfort them with a security object (a special blanket, toy or stuffed animal), a dim night light, or a gentle noise machine. You can also try giving your toddler the self-confidence to get rid of their own night-frights, by spraying a monster-repeller (‘calming room spray’) around their room, where any bedtime baddies might be lurking. Keep it by their bed, and if they wake up in the middle of the night, they can spritz the Boogeyman back into hiding. (Without waking you, preferably.)