By Julia Vinokur

For most parents the time before bed is the most challenging.  You have to answer hundreds of questions, which for some reason children start asking just after you say: “time for bed”.  You also get to deal with dozens of requests, such as “I am thirsty, I am hungry, I need to go to the bathroom, I forgot something in the playroom, I need to pack my school bag,” etc.

What is there to do for parents to make this time as smooth as possible?  Here are a few tips:

1. Active time during the day. 

It is very important for children to release energy during the day. Walking, running, swimming, jumping, bicycling, and many, many more activities will help your child.  For babies parents can do simple activities, such as bending legs and arms, bicycle exercise, simple massage, etc.  The more tired they are in the evening (up to a point), the easier it will be for them to fall asleep.   

2.  It is very important to calm down before bedtime. 

No active games, dancing or running around is advisable.  Once children get into an active mood, it is very hard for them to calm down.  It can cause a lot of crying (which is a defensive mechanism that helps them release tension).  Try not to overload child’s nervous system with bright emotions.  Movies, cartoons, and new toys can all cause excitement and positive emotions, but that will lead to challenges in getting them to bed. About an hour before bedtime, try to engage in board games, reading, coloring, sorting games, or other low-energy activities.

3. Evening rituals

Evening rituals are very import for children.  Ideally, all the evening activities should be in the same order every day.  Rituals can be different for each child, but shower or bath should be included for everyone, weather and location permitting.  Water relaxes and helps to release tension.  

Children like routine (as anyone who had to read the same book to them hundreds of times can attest to), so it is helpful to choose several books for younger children that can be associated with bedtime stories only.  In case you see that your child rubs his eyes, just choose one short story or do not read at all.  Otherwise the moment may pass, and your baby might become restless.

4. Routine

Routine is very important.  Just rituals are not enough; it is also important that all the rituals would occur at the same time every day.  Such a routine would allow your child to know what to expect and to prepare for bed easily and stress free.

5. Comfort.

Air in the bedroom should be fresh, cool and humid.  Open the windows just before bedtime and install a humidifier if necessary. I always leave windows in the bedrooms open for the whole day unless it is very hot outside.  Some kids are afraid of the dark, so having a nightlight on while they fall asleep may help (though it’s not ideal to leave it on overnight).  Noise should be kept to a minimum, but I would not go overboard with complete sound/noise-proofing of your kid’s bedrooms (unless you want them to be hyper-sensitive sleepers who will react to every creak and outside noise).  All things in moderation.

All children need hugs and kisses, especially at bedtime.  They also are prone to share their feelings just before going to bed.  Try to spend some time by their bed, talk to them softly, do quick massage, sing a lullaby or just sit quietly.  Sometimes this is the only quiet alone time I can get with my daughters, and I enjoy it tremendously.  I am always surprised how much they have to share – things that they don’t have time for during the day, but are an important part of their developing relationship with you.

Happy Bedtime!