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Positive bedtime routines

3-18 months

A positive bedtime routine can calm and soothe your baby or young child in the 20 minutes or so before bed. This makes it easier to get your child into bed and settle her, ready for sleep.

Bedtime routine: what is it and how can it help?

A positive bedtime routine involves your child going through a few pleasurable activities about 20 minutes before bedtime.

A good bedtime routine helps soothe and calm your child so she’s ready for sleep. It also helps your child develop good sleeping habits now and for the future.

Without a good bedtime routine, it can be hard for a baby to settle to sleep.

If you’re working on getting your baby or young child to settle better at bedtime, a positive bedtime routine will help. Child health professionals will almost always recommend a positive bedtime routine if you’re using behavioural strategies like controlled comforting or camping out.

What a positive bedtime routine looks like

A bedtime routine can have quite a few activities. The key is that you do similar activities in roughly the same way each night starting around 20 minutes before your child’s bedtime.

Most bedtime routines include pre-bed tasks like having a bath and brushing teeth, as well as quiet, enjoyable activities like reading a book or listening to a story. The aim is to keep the atmosphere positive, using positive attention and praise.

Here’s an example of a bedtime routine that could start after dinner and a bath:

  • Your child plays quietly for 15-20 minutes – this could include reading with you.
  • You and your child go into the bedroom.
  • You and your child have a brief cuddle and kiss.
  • You put your child into bed.
At the end of the 20-minute ‘positive period’, say goodnight to your child. This is the time to be firm if your child resists. Be clear that it’s now time for sleep, then leave the room straight away.

Making a start: choosing a bedtime

You might have an ideal bedtime in mind – somewhere between 7 pm and 8 pm often works for young children.

But when you’re dealing with settling problems, it’s best to start with the bedtime that’s closest to when your child naturally falls asleep. This increases the chance that the bedtime routine will become strongly linked to sleep time for your child. For example, if you find that your child finally falls asleep around 9 pm, start with this as a temporary bedtime.

Moving your child’s actual bedtime towards your ideal bedtime

About a week after you introduce the positive bedtime routine, you can start bringing your child’s bedtime forward.

This involves making bedtime 5-10 minutes earlier every few days. You do this until you reach your child’s ideal bedtime.

For example, your child has been falling asleep at 9 pm, but you want an 8 pm bedtime. Here’s what to do:

  1. Start by putting your child to bed at 8.50 pm.
  2. Do this for several nights.
  3. Move bedtime back to 8.40 pm for the next few nights.
  4. Continue this gradual ‘fading’ process until your child is going to bed at the time you want.
It can take a few weeks but a positive bedtime routine improves settling problems, decreases the number of times your child calls out to you at night and leads to better parent-child relationships.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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