When our babies are young we see sleeping patterns. This helps us to establish a healthy routine so that we can help them distinguish between night and day. Also so they can get the amount of sleep that is vital for them.
As you start to see these patterns of sleep you will feel more confident at creating your routine which in turn, in later months to come, will be a healthy bedtime ritual of Bath, Book, Bed.
When they are having fun, most children do not want the day to end. Even though sleep is good for them, most kids will resist it. I think it is important to navigate your bedtime ritual with a positive attitude.
Most parents are exhausted from their busy days come this time of the evening, and that can make a child feel more anxious before going off to bed. So dedicate giving your time to your children so that they are able to enjoy bathtime, getting rid of that last bit of energy.
You could enjoy a winding-down foot massage or back rub before tucking into bed and reading one of their favourite books with you. You see when bedtime is not drudgery then it's not a bad thing to have to do.
There are some fantastic educational games that children love to play, but at bedtime, books are better than digital activity. Evidence suggests that books (and being read to by a grown up) have a calming effect on our brains, whereas lit screens and digital activity can create excitement and actually wake us up.
I recommend turning all screens off and sticking to physical books at bedtime. Combined with love and cuddles and age-appropriate stories, books make for a perfect bedtime.
I don't have time to read a story to my children at bedtime; I do it during the day instead. Is this a problem?
It's fantastic you share books with your children in the daytime - any time is a good time to read together. I would really encourage you to read to your child at night as well, even for just 10 minutes.
Something as simple as a few nursery rhymes or a picture book will help your child to unwind and relax. In the long term it's a healthy association.
Enjoying books together
My suggestion would be for each small child to choose a book and then read each book in turn. This is a great way for children to learn how to enjoy and share the choice of others, how to take turns, and let's face it - more than one small child means several books before bed!
My child won't sit and listen to a story, they prefer to move around and look at several books at the same time.
We want children to enjoy handling and turning the pages, and pointing things out in the books that they choose. However, to really grasp your child's attention so they can enjoy the stories being read to them, I would encourage you to place the books in order so that they can focus on one book at a time.
As they become more engaged and better at this, you will see that they will want to come over to listen to the story for longer periods of time. Remember, just because your child isn't sitting down and turning the pages doesn't mean they are not listening to you telling the story.
My child always asks for another story and then gets upset at the end of the story time so the routine ends up being unsettling.
Agree to the amount of stories you'll read with your child upfront, so your child knows what to expect. Perhaps your bedtime ritual finishes by singing a song as you tuck your child in. Some parents like to finish story time with a lovely reminder of the things they will be looking forward to tomorrow before they drift off to sleep.
BookTrust's Best Bedtime Books list is a great place to start! Also, see my blog for some of the books I remember enjoying when I was a child - I hope you and your children will love them too.
If you don't have a book to hand try telling a story, singing your favourite rhymes or talking to your child about their day instead. BookTrust gift free Bookstart packs to every child in England and Wales in the first 12 months - if you haven't received yours yet, ask your health visitor or local library.
Why not borrow books for free from the library, and consider joining as a family? You can also pick up one of the 450,000 picture books we're giving to families as part of National Bookstart Week, 5-11 June in 2017 - contact your local library or children's centre for more details.
Saying good night
What's important is a calming bedtime routine. Baths can be part of this, but if they don't work for you every night, skip straight to those lovely stories!
It's natural for some toddlers to wake up later in the night. When they get up, return them to their own bed after you've made sure they don't need the toilet or a nappy change. You can give them a drink of water if they need it, but put the emphasis on getting them back to bed as soon as possible with a minimum of fuss or reward, and with little conversation.
Over time, they'll realise that there's no benefit for them in getting up and they'll start to settle themselves if they wake up. If you need more help please read Jo Frost's Confident Toddler Care for all sleep techniques to sleep train your child, or check out my blog about this very topic.
Your baby feels secure in your arms, so swaddling* your infant as you lay them down to rest can help them settle to sleep. Implement a day time routine, so they get used to both sleeping positions. But do make sure you know how to swaddle correctly and safely. Guidance is available at lullabytrust.org.uk/swaddling-slings.
*BookTrust does not advise for or against swaddling. If you plan to swaddle your infant, please follow guidelines from a health professional or information source such as the Lullaby Trust.
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