4. Routine, routine, routine.
Kids love it, they thrive on it, and it works. In fact, a 2009 article in the journal Sleep found that a consistent nighttime routine improved sleep in children who had mild to moderate sleep problems. A nightly bedtime routine helps your child learn to be sleepy, just like reading in bed often puts adults to sleep. The structure of bedtime routines also associates the bedroom with good feelings and provides a sense of security and control. Routines can take the stress out of bedtime and help make it a special time.
There is no one right routine for everyone, but in general, your routine should include all the things that your child needs to do before going to sleep, including brushing teeth, washing up, putting on PJs, and having a snack or drink of water. Your child may want to be read to, talk about the day, or be told a story. Whatever you choose to do, keep the routine short (30 minutes or less, not including a bath) and be firm about ending it when it's time to sleep.
5. Bedtime snacks.
Children need more than three meals a day to keep them going, so a small snack before bedtime can help their bodies stay fueled through the night. Healthy options include whole-grain cereal with milk, graham crackers, or a piece of fruit. Avoid large snacks too close to bed, especially with older kids, because a full stomach can interfere with sleep.
6. Dress and room temperature.
Everyone sleeps better in a room that is cool, but not cold. For optimal comfort, a good rule of thumb is to dress your child basically as you dress yourself, keeping in mind that younger children often kick off the covers at night and are unable to cover themselves.
7. Sleep environment.
Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet and the noise level in the house is low. If your child does not like a totally dark room, turn on a small night light, or leave the hall light on and the door to the bedroom open.
8. Security object.
Bedtime means separation, and that can be made easier with a personal object, like a doll, teddy bear, blanket, or other comfort item. This kind of object can provide a sense of security and control that comforts and reassures your child before falling asleep.
9. One last thing.
Kids will always ask for that one last thing -- kisses, hugs, a drink of water, using the bathroom, just one more book. They can be quite inventive. Do your best to anticipate all this by incorporating these small rituals into the bedtime routine. That way you can get it all done before putting your child to bed. And let your child know that once he is in bed, he has to stay in bed.
If he gets up, don't react -- simply take him by the hand and walk him back to bed. If you argue or give in to requests, you are giving your child the extra attention -- and delayed bedtime -- he is seeking. And don't give into the "just this one time" pitfall. If you read one more story or let them stay up longer "just this time," you risk that the bedtime routine you've worked so hard to establish will come undone.