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How to Create a Bedtime Routine for Your Baby or Toddler (+ Sample Routines)

A healthy lifestyle starts with sleep. Want to create natural and healthy sleep habits for your baby or toddler? Here's how to get your child on a regular evening routine.

Motherhood is hard, there’s no way around it. Whether you’re a first-time mama, expecting another child or just want to try something different, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how you’d like to build a sleep routine for you and your child. 

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions and helpful tips for getting your baby (or toddler) into a successful nightly groove. 

What exactly is a routine?

Routine centers around creating consistency through a structured schedule so both you and your baby know what comes next. This predictable schedule teaches children how to constructively manage themselves in their environments (such as being put to bed while awake and putting themselves to sleep without pushback).

Is routine right for everyone?

Like so many child-rearing issues, there’s more than one right answer. For us, a predictable routine has helped set expectations. As our girls have gotten older, it’s proven to build confidence and independence, create habits that have taught them to better manage their time and help them get excited about bedtime.

A routine doesn’t necessarily mean following a rigid schedule.

Like most healthy habits, routine also involves some flexibility. Every child is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE thing that will work for them all.

When you create a sleep routine that works for you and your family, do your best to stick to it, but know that it’s not something that is set in stone. An occasional deviation, like sleeping in a new environment while on vacation, shouldn’t cause too much disruption to your child’s sleep routine, just pick up as usual when you can.

The benefits of a bedtime routine

  • A somewhat predictable sleep routine (set by the parents, not the child) encourages them to know what will happen next, whether it’s time to play or sleep.
  • It gives them security, emotional stability and helps them learn to trust that they will be provided with what they need.
  • It has been shown to have long-term benefits. As the baby transitions into toddlerhood and early childhood, it helps family life run more smoothly because there is an understanding of basic sleep habits without power struggles between parent and child.
  • It allows the parents to feel more organized and in control, which lowers stress.

The cons of a bedtime routine

  • Routine is difficult in those early days of infanthood, especially when your little one can’t even tell day from night yet.
  • As a brand-new mom who’s utterly exhausted, a routine can add stress before it alleviates it.
  • If you have an older child, getting started can feel like a challenge.

How to build a routine

One of the BEST ways to successfully establish a new habit is by linking it to an existing habit that’s already part of our day. Essentially, the existing habit acts as a trigger and, over time, our brain goes on autopilot and our new skill becomes routine.

For example, if you smell lavender essential oil before turning in for the night, over time the scent of lavender becomes an obvious cue leading to the next step… bedtime. This is called habit stacking and works wonders when building a sleep routine, especially in children.

When should you start?

It’s never too early to establish a bedtime routine for your child. In fact, many experts recommend starting an evening routine within the first few months.

It’s common for Babywise parents (who use sleep training) to start somewhere in the birth to 2-month window. We decided to embark on a routine as soon as we got home from the hospital, but there was certainly some flexibility since the girls were so young.

The caveat is if you wait too long, habits like rocking and pacifying can be ingrained in your baby as sleep associations, or crutches, they need to fall asleep and stay asleep.

If your baby is older than a few months, don’t worry, it’s never too late to develop good sleep habits. There is no right or wrong time to start, it’s what works best for your family!

Example routines for you to try:

For the first few months of our girls’ lives, our routine was pretty basic and mainly focused around sleep. As they got older, the routine changed ever so slightly. Keep in mind, it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies—especially when initially setting a standard—but it worked for us.

Our bedtime routine looked something like this for the first 24 months

  • Night feeding at a specific time—this time shifted as the girls got older (no playtime to follow)
  • Wash face with a warm washcloth
  • Change baby’s clothes
  • Short bedtime book—for us this is a daily devotional
  • Low lights
  • Sing a soft lullaby—for us this is: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray…”
  • Gently wave lavender essential oil around nose for a calming effect and to indicate it’s bedtime
  • Down for bed while still at least slightly awake, saying “Goodnight, I love you!”
  • AM (same wake time each morning; we followed a sleep schedule): Open blinds, change baby’s clothes, wash face with a warm washcloth, feed (a new day is beginning)

Now that the girls are older (ages 2+), bedtime looks something like this

  • Dinner
  • Playtime as a family for 15-30 minutes
  • 7:45 pm: Brush teeth and wash face with a warm washcloth
  • Change into pajamas
  • Short bedtime book—for us this is a daily devotional
  • Responsibility chart
  • Low lights
  • Sing a soft lullaby—for us this is: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray…”
  • Gently wave lavender essential oil around nose for a calming effect and to indicate its bedtime
  • 8:00 pm: Down for bed, saying “Goodnight, I love you!”
  • 8:00 am: Open blinds, change into clothes for the day, brush teeth and wash face with a warm washcloth, breakfast

These two routines (based on their age) have worked like hypnosis for us and helped both myself and the girls get more sleep!

Now that Isla is older and accustomed to the flow of things, she’ll ask for lavender when she’s sleepy at bedtime. It’s also helped both girls learn to use their imagination and quietly play with their stuffed animals in their crib after they wake (usually for 30-60 minutes).

Every baby is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE set routine that will work for them all.

Test your plan out and evaluate what worked well and what could be improved upon. The first time you put together a schedule, look at it as a starting point or rough draft. Then, adjust as necessary until you find what actually works best for you and your baby.

Whether it is time to play or time for a snack, a nap or a loved one to return, knowing what will happen next gives babies and toddlers security and emotional stability.

Consistency is key when it comes to a successful bedtime routine your child can depend on day after day.

Bedtime routines can be difficult to get started, but it’s important to make them a healthy habit for your children. Taking the time to read them a book (even if it’s the same one for the 100th time) or washing their face each night deepens the sense of trust and love that a child has with their parents.

It gives babies and toddlers security and emotional stability and sets the stage for healthy sleep habits in the future.

Whether you’re trying to establish a routine for your infant or toddler, be patient. In time, they’ll learn to love their nightly routine and look forward to a good night’s sleep.

Let’s create successful bedtime routines for our children — together!

Cheers to a healthy lifestyle and living FULLforLife!
xo, Pam & Kalie

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Hi beautiFULL, We’re Pam and Kalie

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