From the time my oldest was an infant, I have been a firm believer in bedtime routines. For us, baths, milk, and snuggles with mom and/or dad have always been on the agenda, but the order and time spent on each item has varied greatly depending on the stage my kids were at. Their bedtime routine still involves the same basic outline as it did when they were very little, but as elementary schoolers they now take charge of more activities leading up to bedtime. These eight signs it's time to change your kid's bedtime routine can help you know when it's time to make some adjustments that will help smooth out bedtime as your child gets older.
At a certain point, it may be time to change up your child's bedtime routine as they grow and their needs change. "While we don't want to totally alter bedtime routines drastically, we certainly want them to be enjoyable for children. If your little one doesn't like books, spend less time reading and more time singing songs or saying prayers. If they become too stimulated or too drowsy during any part of the routine, that may be a clue to tweak it slightly," Jamie Engleman, a pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Oh Baby Consulting, tells Romper.
Not only can your child's likes and dislikes alter their bedtime routine, but their level of independence can cause a shift in bedtime routines as well. "As your child gets older, their level of independence will change. They will be able to take on parts of the routine on their own. And as you see this shift occur, it’s a great time to allow them to take control of those things," says Dana Stone, an infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting, in an interview with Romper.
If you notice any of these eight signs it's time to change up your child's bedtime routine, it may be smart to examine what you can alter and how it will impact your child's sleep habits for years to come.
1. They've Outgrown Lullabies
Engleman says that bedtime routines should include things that promote sleep and are enjoyed by both kids and their parent. "Whatever parents choose to incorporate into their routines, it should be enjoyable for both parent and child, and be easy enough that it can be repeated night after night," she says.
If you child is suddenly protesting lullabies, it may be time to look into adding bedtime routine items that they actually enjoy like reading or singing more popular tunes. "I love a bedtime routine that includes at least one to two books, even with our littlest babies. It's such a nice bonding time and of course helps to promote literacy," Engleman says.
2. They're Potty Trained (Or In The Process)
Learning a new skill like pulling up or walking can have an impact on a child's sleep. This is especially true of potty training. As a child learns to use the restroom independently, they will have to transition out of wearing diapers at bedtime. According to The Baby Sleep Site, this transition can take months or even up to a year, but ultimately will lead to a change in how your little one gets ready for bed. Where they once would need a diaper change, now your kiddo will need to use the restroom one last time immediately before laying down to maximize the amount of time they can go without getting up to go again.
3. They Start Trying To Stall Bedtime
As kids grow, they may start to add things to their bedtime routine, like asking for a glass of water or another stuffed animal, to try to stall the actual end of their bedtime routine. Elisa Costanza and Pam Larouche, early childhood educators and baby and child sleep consultants at Restful Parenting, tell Romper that parents who notice this can add a sticker chart to their bedtime routine to help prevent stalling.
"When babies become toddlers, they often need a little more of a visual of what their bedtime routine looks like because this is the age where they really like to test limits and stall bedtime," they say. "So adding a picture routine chart can be a nice addition to their bedtime routine so that they have something visual to look at and they can become involved in the routine by checking off what they completed in their routine by putting a sticker beside the picture or similar. This can help tremendously with bedtime stalling because that routine chart can help them understand when parents set limits surrounding bedtime."
4. They Need More Time To Talk
As your kids grow, you may notice that they start to unload once their head hits the pillow Constanza and Larouche say that it is totally normal to alter your child's bedtime routine to include more time for end of the day discussion.
"Many toddlers and children process their day right at bedtime when it is quiet and their minds are trying to relax. Adding 10 minutes or so of time to talk and connect can help them process their day with you," they say. "The idea is to ask open-ended questions with younger children, and for older children, just let them have the floor to talk about whatever they want. Often times, you might find that they open up and talk about things that happened in their day. It is also a great time to just be with them and connect emotionally before they go to sleep for the night."
5. They Start Reading Independently
According to Stone, parents may notice a need to change up the reading element of their bedtime routine as children begin to read independently. She says that although children may start to incorporate reading to themselves into their routine, parents can still be involved by talking to them about their day and tucking them in.
"As they get into the later elementary ages, you may see this shift to quietly reading to self but you can keep up the routine with a daily recap when you are tucking them in and turning out lights," Stone says.
6. Baths Are No Longer Relaxing
A bath may seem like a great way to help soothe and settle little ones, but as kids grow, bath time may end up being more like play time and wind them up instead of down. Melissa Zdrodowski, a sleep consultant with Sleep Sisters, admitted on the company's website that her own children are not settled by a bath, but rather see baths as an opportunity to have a ton of fun, and does not include baths in her kid's bedtime routine.
Although it is relaxing for some, if you find yourself with kids that are more amped up after bathing than they used to be, it may be time to consider moving bath time up earlier in the evening and nixing it as part of your official bedtime routine.
7. They're Scared Of The Dark
Irrational childhood fears often pop up out of nowhere and throw parents for a loop. Children who are afraid of the dark can suddenly protest bedtime routines that do not include turning on a night light and checking under the bed for monsters. An article on the website Better Health suggested that parents can ease children's fears of the dark at bedtime by reassuring them throughout their bedtime routine and letting them work through their fear over time.
8. Their Milk-Drinking Habits Change
This one mainly has to do with younger children and babies who are still breastfeeding or taking milk as part of a bedtime routine. As babies grow, pushing forward the time that they drink their milk may become a necessary part of their bedtime routine.
"When moms are breastfeeding as a part of the sleep routine, they are usually the ones who have to do bedtime every time. Changing that up a little bit and having milk 15 or so minutes before the sleep routine means that baby does not rely on that feed as much for sleep and other people can then participate in putting the baby to bed," Costanza and Larouche say.
Speaking from personal experience, this also translates over to when older kids transition from bottle or breast milk to using a sippy cup. Sitting up to have their cup of milk before they get into bed is just a bit different than being cradled in mom's arms with a bottle or breast, and that transition changes the bedtime routine.