Summer is almost over – no more late nights. If your little cherub is back at school already you may have struggled this week with bedtimes. Even the most routine-led parent loosens the reigns somewhat over the summer holidays. Late afternoon outings, long bright summer evenings and relaxed bedtimes are what summer holidays are all about. But as the summer holidays draw to a close, we need to get our heads around getting back to a normal routine, which starts and ends with bedtime.
So how do we pull it back in and get back to term-time patterns after a significant break?
Experienced Sleep Consultant, Maryanne Taylor gives My Baba readers her top tricks and tips for getting your little one back into a good sleep routine and ready for term-time.
Prepare for take off
Get your child’s room ready for bedtime beforehand – close the curtains, dim the lights, have their night clothes ready. Older children can get their clothes for nursery or school uniform ready themselves for the first day back. This can help them (and us) start to switch their mind-set towards the start of the new term.
Children thrive on predictability and stability so a consistent bedtime, naptime and wake up time help to keep their internal clock on the right track. We know that children need around 11-11 ½ hours of sleep at night so depending on what time your child needs to be up in the morning, work backwards to work out what time bedtime should be. Take another step back to work out when to start the bedtime routine, leaving around 30-40 minutes in order to have a calm, relaxing approach to bedtime. Take yet another step back to make dinner early enough to also be a relaxed and enjoyable affair and try to stick to this structured pattern every day.
Cruising the runway
Give your child a bath if they are used to this at bedtime. After bath, go straight into their dimly lit bedroom to get them ready for bed, keeping the atmosphere low key. Once dressed for bed (including sleeping bag for babies), give a quiet feed in dim light (if relevant) and read bedtime stories.
After stories, switch off the light, give cuddles and kiss, and say goodnight.
General tips for an easier transition
Make sure that your child’s bedroom is warm, comfortable and inviting and not too cluttered.
We know that children (and many adults!) love soft toys but having a cot or a bed full of them can be distracting, not to mention how much space they take up on the bed.
Use a night-light if your child is nervous of the dark. Blackout blinds/curtains are also great for helping to keep all external light out, especially when the sun is up in the early morning and for daytime naps.
Help your child learn how to fall asleep on their own, without a sleep ‘crutch’ such as being fed, rocked to sleep, holding your hand or your presence in the room.
An attachment to a comforter can help your child feel safe and secure if he/she wakes up during the night or to help with separation anxiety. A soft toy or blanket works well and make sure your child has it with them in their bed.
Put your child into the cot or bed awake rather than asleep. If they don’t know how to settle themselves to sleep at bedtime, they won’t know how to settle themselves back to sleep during the night.
The end of the summer holidays can bring mixed emotions for parents however I’ll leave you with one positive of earlier bedtimes for your child – longer evenings for you!
Maryanne Taylor is an experienced Sleep Consultant, helping families with their children’s sleep problems, from newborn babies to children up to seven years of age. She is a member of the British Sleep Society and The International Association for Sleep Consultants. Maryanne runs The Sleep Works, a private sleep consulting practice.