When I think back to my daughter's first few years, I am almost immediately taken back to the quiet nights when I rocked her to sleep while singing her special lullaby.
One night, she sang it back to me in her own 18-month-old way. As she did, she looked lovingly into my eyes and held me tight… just what I had done with her night after night. That was the first time I realized that her lullaby was having a huge impact.
I’ve come to believe that nighttime routines are NOT about getting to bed as quickly and painlessly as possible (though that’s a perk!). Instead, they’re about inserting a peaceful and loving process into something that, without routine, can be stressful and exhausting (for kids and parents).
Just thinking about a bedtime routine in that way can completely alter the way it is put into practice.
Every kid responds differently. Some kids need their routine to be the same every night. (Same timing, same order, same books and songs.) Other kids are able to have more flexibility in their routine. Older kids seem to thrive when they’re given options within that routine. (“Teeth first or jammies first?”)
When you're in the process of establishing a routine, you often need more structure. It might look something like this:
7:15pm Bath time (on bath night!)
7:35pm Jammies and teeth
7:45pm Books! In our house, we do 3 before bed.
If your child is struggling with bedtime, read the same 3 books in the same order while you’re establishing your routine. When they’re ready, you can loosen that part of the routine.
Start with the most exciting book first and then work your way down to the quieter books. While you’re reading, gradually reduce the volume and excitement in your voice (you’re gradually reducing their overall stimulation).
7:55pm End with a special book (that you always do last). THIS one is such a gem for a final bedtime book. Just trust me on this one!
8:00pm Sing your special lullaby. For little ones, this will be the same lullaby night after night. That song can become a "cue" for sleep. (My 4 year-old still yawns within the first few notes of her lullaby I started singing her at 6 months.) Older kids may shift what lullaby they want over time, and that’s okay!
Music therapy research tells us that a parent singing to their child is likely to be more effective than a recording alone. (You don’t have to be a great singer here!! It's about their connection to your voice.) If you’re musical, go ahead and sing the lullaby a cappella. Otherwise, you can hum or sing along to a recording. (Did you know we make special, custom lullabies?)
8:05pm Put them in bed.
Right at the end of the lullaby (I like to do it with the last note/ cadence), give a kiss goodnight and lay them down. Your child should be pretty drowsy (or asleep) after this routine. If they aren’t, stick with it and they should eventually adjust to the routine and become more sleepy as they become used to it.
Many parents play quiet music for the first 30 minutes – 1 hour that their child is in bed and I think it's a good idea for most kids. (Here’s the playlist we use.) I use an Amazon Echo to control my daughter’s music from outside of her room. (From my phone... so convenient!) I don't recommend leaving music on all night. I think it’s probably too much stimulation for most kids.
This is the simple, no-frills routine that I've used with countless families with kids in a wide range of ages. It works best if you start when kids are babies, but older kids are so adaptable that they should get the hang of it in a matter of days. Kids with sensory issues or special needs may need additional guidance from a board certified music therapist, and if so, you can find one near you HERE.
*We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.*