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The Early Years: Sleep Associations make for sweet dreams

From Deb Archer

The end of the day has finally arrived and it’s time to put the kids to bed. Bedtime can be either an enjoyable or stressful part of your day. Some children naturally have good sleep habits and love going to bed. Other parents are not so lucky. Some children do not want to stop playing to go to bed, so bedtime can be a struggle. As parents or caregivers, one thing we can to do make this transition to bedtime easier is to establish good sleep associations.

Adults and children alike have sleep associations. These are the conditions that need to be in place in order for us to fall asleep. As adults these associations may include checking to see that the doors are locked, lights are turned off and the kids are all sleeping soundly. We may use the bathroom, brush our teeth, turn on the fan, and set the alarm clock. In the midst of these bedtime routines, our body begins to calm down in preparation for sleep. We can help our children establish some sleep associations and routines to clue their brains and bodies that it’s time to settle down and go to sleep.

For some families the routine looks like this: bath time after supper, brief playtime, brushing teeth, putting on jammies, choosing a book or two, reading stories, finding the favorite blanket or stuffed animal, giving mom or dad (or both) hugs and kisses, singing a song, and saying prayers. After that it’s lights out and time to sleep.

Be careful that your routine does not get too long. You don’t want kids to start the habit of saying goodnight to all of their toys and stuffed animals, or to every room in the house! Once a habit is formed, you will have to follow through every night before your child will be mentally and physically ready for bed. Their little bodies will learn to associate these things with sleeping.

Each family will have a different bedtime routine and different sleep associations. Figure out a routine that works for your family, and stick with it. There will be times when the schedule does not allow the routine to be followed. Kids are flexible, but try to return to the routine as soon as possible.

Bedtime should be a relaxing and enjoyable part of your day. It is a cozy time for you to connect and bond with your child. The housework and other responsibilities can wait until the kids are in bed, or until another day! Leave your phone in a different room, snuggle with your kids as you read stories, talk about what happened during the day, and possibly what they can expect tomorrow. The period in life when your kids want to snuggle and have you read with them will not last forever, so take time and enjoy that special time with your child.