Making a Bedtime Ritual

baby drinking out of a sippy cup

Does uttering the phrase "bedtime" send your toddler into squeals of hysterical protest? Do you sink onto your sheets in grateful exhaustion each night, only to hear the plaintive call of "Mommy" as your child creeps through your bedroom door? Then you are in desperate need of these terrific tips, designed to end every mom's epic struggle for a good night's rest.

Basics of Bedtime Rituals

Keep bedtime and the ritual that surrounds it consistent to establish a familiar routine, security, predictability, and an end to negotiations.

Baby and mother sleeping

Build active play and exercise into your child's day to ensure that by bedtime he's ready to sleep.

Have a calm period after dinner, whether that means reading before bed, cuddling, telling stories, or taking a bath. Make the half an hour before bed a transition time that quiets down your child and prepares him for bed.

Give your child plenty of notice as bedtime approaches, so he can begin the transition and end at his pace whatever activity in which he's involved.

Set a timer for starting the bedtime routine if you find yourself engaged in power struggles.

Give your child some control over his bedtime routine: allow him some choices, like between two books or pairs of pajamas.

Make a chart with pictures of everything that needs to be done before bed. This way your child can start working on these himself, from putting on pajamas to brushing his teeth, to picking up toys on his bedroom floor. As a treat for your child in the winter, warm pajamas in the dryer for a few minutes to make them cozy, but make sure buttons and other metal parts don't get too hot.

Set a time for lights out, and stick as close to it as possible.

If you work, resist the urge to allow your child to stay up later to spend time with him. This will only make him cranky if he has to get up early for school or day care. Even on a weekend, this will throw off his schedule.

Move bedtime earlier if your child has difficulty getting up for day care or school in the morning.

Tell your child when a special occasion is coming that allows or requires him to stay up later than usual, and let him know when bedtime will return to normal again.

More Ways To Make an Excellent Bedtime Routine

Do not offer a later bedtime as a reward for good behavior or an earlier bedtime as punishment for bad behavior, to ensure that your child does not begin to associate sleep with punishment. Keep the message clear that sleep is a way to let your child's body energize itself for the next day.

If your child habitually gets out of bed after having been tucked in for the night:

Make sure he has water nearby if he is thirsty, and a night-light or low-watt light on if he's concerned about the dark.

Immediately lead your child back to bed, quietly remind him it is bedtime and tell him you will check back in awhile.

Minimize contact and conversation. Repeat the process as many times as necessary without making a production of it.

If your child wants you in the room with him, compromise by offering to stay in the hallway until he falls asleep.

Reward him with stars, stickers, and extra stories at night for not getting out of bed. Communicate the message that you refuse to waver on bedtime, and that pleas and entreaties will not buy more stories, television, play time, or grown-up attention.

Copyright 2006, Mom Central, Inc. Permission granted for reprints Stacy DeBroff, best-selling parenting author of The Mom Book Goes to School: Insider Tips to Ensure Your Child Thrives in Elementary and Middle School, and founder of