Mom and daughter reading book at bedtime

How To Create A Calming Bedtime Routine For Kids Who Battle Sleep

Are you looking for a helpful bedtime routine for kids?

We’ve always been big on bedtime routines in our family. Both of our kids have had their own routine from the age of 10 weeks old. When they were babies, it was simple – bath, book, bottle, bed. We found that having a consistent routine from such a young age really helped them with their sleep cues, and they would settle pretty well for the night.

Now that they’re toddler and preschool-aged, their routines have morphed over time. Everley’s is still fairly basic, because as a toddler she’s still pretty easy to convince to go to sleep! But we’ve really had to work to create a routine that calms Jackson down and prepares his body for sleep after a big day of playing at school with his friends.

Maybe kids’ bedtime problems are your reality right now.

If so, this might ring a little bit familiar to you:

  • Jackson will do anything he can to drag out bedtime
  • When it’s time to begin the routine, he’s not necessarily sleepy yet
  • He can be wriggly and unable to focus or listen
  • He sometimes crashes early in the evening, but gets the dreaded “second wind” of energy at bedtime

Overcoming bedtime issues has been a real work in progress for us. However, I can definitely say that we have found a number of strategies to combat the above and help him off to sleep.

If your child needs a little help getting to sleep, consider adjusting their bedtime routine

Your child’s bedtime routine is the key player in winding them down for sleep, so it’s essential that you create a routine that will work for them. While overhauling the routine can be an arduous job, it will pay off in the long run!

And while bedtime isn’t always executed perfectly in our home (Jackson is still a cheeky pre-schooler at the end of the day!), it has certainly improved a lot since we analyzed our routine and became more intentional about using it to calm him and prepare him for sleep. It became less about going through the motions, and more about working with him.

Mother reading book to daughter at bedtime

How to create an effective bedtime routine for children

See if some of these tips improve the bedtime situation in your home!

1. Create a bedtime routine with your child’s input

Involving your child in the process gives them a sense of ownership of the routine, and also holds them more accountable to it. When I overhauled Jackson’s bedtime routine, I wrote it down on a sheet of paper with simple pictures beside each step to help jog his memory. While I was ultimately in charge of deciding each step, I allowed Jackson to assert his ideas when it came to the order in which we do things (“do you want to read books or brush teeth first?”), as well as how many books we read together (“Should we read two books, three books, or four books?”) and how long I sit on his bed at the end (“Should I sit on the bed for two minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes?”).

Now when he tries to stray from the routine, I have a visual aide to point at, and I remind him that we created the routine together.

2. Switch off the bedroom light for a calmer bedtime routine

Mother and daughter reading book at bedtime

At the peak of our bedtime issues, Jackson was going through a scared-of-the-dark phase and insisted we leave his bedroom light on – only consenting to us switching it off once he had fallen asleep. But that bright, full light did us no favours when it came time to say goodnight. His brain was way too stimulated by all that light, and he wasn’t receiving any sleepy cues.

We wanted to turn off the light, but each time we tried, he would just scream and beg for the light back. He had a night light, but it wasn’t enough.

So we took him to Kmart and had him pick out a desk lamp that he liked. We set it up in his room, and haven’t had any problems since then with turning off the bedroom light. We do our entire bedtime routine in the light of the desk lamp, and the room is so dark and peaceful that he instantly begins to calm down.

3. Ensure the bedtime routine is tailored for winding down

A strategic bedtime routine for kids involves as little stimulation as possible. It doesn’t make sense to hype up a kid and then expect them to quickly calm down. As adults, this switch is easier, but little brains take a lot more work to be able to calm down off a high. So avoid:

  • Tickle fights and wrestling in bed – save it for the morning
  • Picking battles over inconsequential things – I’m very conscious about choosing my battles more than ever at bedtime!
  • Funny, exciting, or highly stimulating books
  • Lots of questions and talking – this isn’t the time to “catch up” with your kiddo and get their brain ticking over

The aim is to keep things simple and calm, and focused on one goal: going to sleep.

4. No screens

The blue light in screens is extremely stimulating for the brain, and our kids are particularly susceptible. Cut out pre-bedtime screens completely, or you could be setting your kids up to fail.

Jackson does get some TV in the evenings, but before bedtime we shut it off and spend some time playing LEGO together on the floor (after I’ve put Everley to bed). It’s a great time of connection, it helps him wind down, and it gives him something to focus on that isn’t blasting at him from a screen.

Check out my tips on reducing kids’ screen time here.

5. Use essential oils

If you’re into essential oils, this is a great way to incorporate oils into your evening routine. I try to diffuse something calming like lavender or Young Living’s Peace and Calming II each evening, from around the time I put the kids in the bath. It’s diffusing all through dinner, through Everley’s bedtime, and then through Jackson’s bedtime routine and it can often take the edge off for him.

I’ve also created a little lavender roller bottle for Jackson as he really loves lavender oil, and it happens to be a great sleep aide. At bedtime we roll it on his feet and spine, and even a bit on the underside of his pillow case.

If using essential oils for your kids, always be careful to dilute. This guide explains how to dilute oils based on kids’ ages.

6. Try an audio book

While I haven’t tried this, I’ve had more than one person recommend turning on an audiobook when you leave your child’s room for the night, allowing them to drift off while listening to a story. It creates something for them to focus on in the dark, pushing toys and other distractions out of their peripheral.

Alternatively, soothing music or even a noise machine with rain noises can provide a peaceful audio cue to help them settle.

7. Experiment with an earlier bedtime

An earlier bedtime could be the key to kids' bedtime routine issues

After a long day at kindergarten, Jackson is sometimes prone to crashing in the early evening. He lies on the couch and zones out before/after dinner. At first it seemed that this was a sure sign that his bedtime routine would go smoothly, and he would be ready to collapse into bed. Unfortunately, we quickly found the opposite to be true! If Jackson’s body goes into a proper rest state at some point in the lead-up to his bedtime routine, he gets a full second-wind of energy, and is bouncing off the walls throughout the routine.

To avoid that dreaded second-wind, try an earlier bedtime for your child – half an hour or even an hour earlier than their usual bedtime.

I would 100% do this if I could, but I’m usually doing both kids’ bedtime routines by myself, which means that Jackson’s routine needs to happen after Everley’s – and I can’t put her down any earlier than I currently do! (She could actually stand to go down a bit later, but I don’t want to push Jackson’s bedtime any later!) The juggle, am I right!?

8. Connect

Though it can tempting to rush through your kids’ bedtime routine, it’s actually an amazing opportunity for connecting with them. Bedtime is one of the only times each day that Jackson gets me all to himself, so it’s a really special time for both of us. It’s also the only chance he gets to have quality time with Chris most days, due to his long hours at work.

While we are hanging out for some quiet time to ourselves in the evenings, Jackson is hanging out for his Mummy/Daddy time, so I always choose to look at bedtime from his perspective and make sure he knows that this time of connection is just as important to me as it is to him. I chat to him, I check in with him, and I make sure to tell him that his bedtime is so special to me because I love spending that time with him.

Connecting with your child at bedtime doesn’t need to be a long, deep and meaningful talk (unless they particularly need it some nights!). It’s more about affirming them, encouraging them, and making them feel seen and heard in little ways.

Ideas to try:

  • Reading books
  • Singing lullabies
  • Praying
  • Telling stories from when you were a child (these are a hot favourite in our house!)
  • Stroking their back

9. Snuggles

If Jackson makes it through the whole bedtime routine without drifting off, we finish it with a “ten minute cuddle”. It’s not really ten whole minutes long – we just lay there cuddling in the dark, and I count down the “minutes” (which are really only 20 seconds or so!)

By this point, he is well and truly sleepy, and generally we don’t hear another peep from him!

It may take a little trial and error, but finding your child’s ideal bedtime routine will be a game-changer for your family.

So many parents absolutely dread the thought of putting their kids to bed, but it doesn’t have to be a painful, difficult exercise. Kids and parents alike can look forward to a quiet bedtime routine filled with connection.

What are some essential elements to bedtime routine for your kids?

Let me know in the comments how your family makes bedtime special!

Mother daughter story time - part of a calming bedtime routine for kids
Little boy sleeping in bed

How To Create A Calming Bedtime Routine For Kids Who Battle Sleep

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