If your vision of tucking your baby into bed, kissing his head and walking out the door is something you dream of, you’re not alone. One of the biggest surprises in early parenting is that your little one doesn’t happily drift off to sleep.

From birth, we rock them, bounce them and feed them to sleep. At some point, most parents find they’d like their baby to be a bit more independent in going to sleep. One of the keys to this is establishing a bedtime routine.

What is a Bedtime Routine?

A bedtime routine can be anything your family needs it to be. Basically, it’s the series of events that you use to help your child wind down and understand that it is time for sleep. The key to a successful routine is to make it something both you and your child are comfortable with. It may take a few tweaks to figure out what is the most efficient and effective way to get your child to sleep. Eventually though, you’ll have it down and both you and your baby will find bedtime a whole lot easier.

Why is a Routine Helpful?

Your bedtime routine with your child will eventually become a set of cues. Your child will understand that when events X, Y, and Z happen (or A, B, C, D, E, F, G), it is time for bed. Children are creatures of routine, and routine brings comfort. Your baby or child will eventually realize that once all of the steps are complete, they will be expected to sleep. So, consistency is key!

A routine can also help to deal with your child’s “tricky” behaviours around bedtime. If you have a clingy child, a bedtime routine will give him advance warning that you will depart. An anxious child will anticipate bedtime for a longer period of time with a drawn out routine so a short and simple one will be better suited. On the other hand, if you have a child who is very active, you may need a longer routine to help her settle down. If you expect her to go from full speed to asleep in 20 minutes, you will likely have a battle on your hands.

The key is to develop a routine that is tailored to your child’s needs and personality, keeping in mind to avoid any activities that are known to trigger tears and tantrums.

When Should a Bedtime Routine Begin?

It’s never too early or too late to start a bedtime routine! You will have plenty of other things to focus on with a newborn but once your baby is a little older you can start with something ‌ simple. For example, singing the same song each time your baby goes into bed. This simple step will help your baby begin to understand when it’s time to go to sleep.

Around four months, your baby will go through his first sleep regression where his pattern of sleep cycles will transition to be more like adult sleep. This is a great time to introduce a more consistent bedtime routine. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but ‌make sure you follow the same steps every night. You can also have a briefer version of the routine before each nap.

Examples of Bedtime Routines

Here are a couple of examples of some bedtime routines:

For ‌babies, you might try: Dinner, Bath, Milk feed, Song in a dim room, Rocking, into Bed.

For a toddler you might try: Dinner, Quiet play time (or more active if it helps an energetic toddler get rid of their last energy for the day), Bath, Quiet Story Time/Song Time, Brushing Teeth, into Bed

Remember that consistency is key. Although it can feel mundane to do the same thing every night, the benefit of peaceful bedtime for everyone is worth it!