Despite best efforts, many parents report bedtime challenges with their young children aged 2.5-3 years plus. As our children mature developmentally, so too does their sleep profile and their attitudes. How they experience sleep may become heightened, sometimes leading to sleep refusal at bedtime.

There are many force factors that affect your child’s sleep from their physical and emotional environment to their activity, screen time and diet.  Like many parents, you may be routinely analysing and reviewing, to identify areas that may be undermining your child’s sleep. Two main sleep influences are timing, and how your child experiences their bedtime.

Developing a successful bedtime routine

If we can address bedtime before your child is overtired, and if we can nurture their sleep profile so that they are confident and willing to achieve sleep, then many of the reported challenges may diminish.

Understanding your child’s sleep needs are key to developing a successful bedtime plan. Between the ages of two and three there are changes that bubble under the surface as your child ultimately transitions from needing a day sleep to no longer sleeping by day, which means their entire sleep quota of 10-13 hours is filled in the overnight period.

Ditching the daytime naps

As your child transitions, bedtime may have to start later as you slowly reduce the nap length, so that bedtime is not a challenge because of the nap – albeit still needed. I often feel this period requires fancy footwork on your part to create the required balance for your own individual child, with the majority of young children needing a nap until closer to three years.

Embracing our own child’s individuality and uniqueness is significant in helping them to achieve and maintain their sleep. Once a nap is no longer biologically necessary for your child then bedtime may become easier for many and understanding that without a nap, bedtime often needs to be brought earlier can be beneficial.

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Creating a bedroom with your child

Generally speaking, once your child is able to communicate with you, their involvement is crucial to the success of new sleep arrangements, and those changes you might need to make to your child’s sleep.

As you embark on this journey there are some important decisions to consider, such as where your child will sleep. It’s important to define their sleeping space, their bed/cot and bedroom and give them a sense of ownership over it. Encourage your child to arrange the room with you, let them decide on what goes where and if possible, the colours and the designs of the duvet, for example.

I love to create a bedtime zone in the bedroom – visually identifiable with perhaps a rug on the floor with some comfortable, relaxing cushions. Include your child’s toys and books in this space and within this area, for the ultimate bedtime routine. I also suggest a lamp on a timer that would go off at the end of the bedtime routine, signalling the end of the preparation and the start of going to sleep itself.

Introduce a “sleep friend”

It may also be helpful to introduce a “sleep friend” like a Baby Annabell doll, together with the Baby Annabell Sweet Dreams collection to accompany your child on their sleep learning journey. It can be positive to promote the concept that their “sleep friend” will participate in their sleep experience, and the Baby Annabell doll, the UK’s number one nurturing doll brand, provides a lovely opportunity to encourage your child to look after and care for another.

Baby Annabell has many interactive features that promote the nurturing aspects of your child’s wellbeing, and through role-play, we can encourage your child to feel safe and secure in the overall context of their sleep.

To further help involve your child in their sleep learning journey, I propose a family meeting. This would ideally be done at a time in the day when your child is well-rested and open to hearing some new suggestions about bedtime. Let Baby Annabell attend the gathering as their “sleep friend”, offering opportunities for your child’s input too. Inviting your child to be a participant in the changes will further enhance their openness to accepting adjustments that you making.

Choose your Baby Annabel “Sleep Friend”

These soft body, realistic dolls help encourage new skills, empathy and imaginative roleplay for children, inspiring nurturing play patterns that’ll keep them busy for hours!

Spend non-sleep time in your child’s bedroom

Visual illustrations can also be helpful, to further ingrain understanding and an openness to change, so again, with your child’s involvement- consider creating a storyboard or a photo book that will help illustrate the bedtime process that we are promoting.  Take pictures of your home, your kitchen, living space, bathroom, bedroom, the bedtime zone, and your child’s bed or cot.

Show your child in words and in pictures the steps that we connect when it is time for sleep. For example, we have our dinner in the kitchen, then we have a bath in the bathroom, we do our bedtime routine in the bedtime zone.  “Baby Annabell sleeps in her Sweet Dreams Crib; I sleep in my bed or cot.”

Spend non-sleep time in your child’s bedroom. I find many parents often are reluctant to do this, I am inclined to foster good forms, feelings and emotions in the bedroom that have nothing to do with sleep. Roleplay the bedtime process with Baby Annabell; change her into her nightwear and sleeping bag, use the bottle and dummy accessories, have your child read a story to Baby Annabell and place her in the Sweet Dreams crib. Tuck her in on the soft mattress, pillow, and blanket, using actions and familiar words and phrases that we will also say to your child at bedtime, such as “Sweet dreams Baby Annabell, I love you.”

How long should a bedtime routine be?

Effective bedtime routines are ideally 20-30 minutes in duration (this is additional to your bath time).  The focus is ideally logical and linear, in that it leads to getting into bed and saying good night. It’s important to foster steps that help move you closer to saying goodnight.

  1. Go into the bedroom, dim the lights, close the curtain, and begin to help your child into their nightwear in the space that we created. To optimise co-operation, encourage your child to also get Baby Annabell ready for bed too and into her sleeping bag.
  2. Engage in lots of physical and eye contact. Read with your child, sing songs with your child, chat with them, ask them to name three things that they loved today and two things that they are looking forward to tomorrow.
  3. Complete your bedtime routine so it is obvious when it is ending. Tucking Baby Annabell into her Sweet Dreams crib and saying goodnight may be a good way to define the beginning of the end and then you can offer your bedtime kiss, and cuddle before the lamp goes out.

A new bedtime routine will take time

As with most changes that parents make, it takes time for the benefits to emerge. Often the process will involve reviewing bed “timing” to ensure your child is tired enough to actually go to sleep or refining what you do during your bedtime routine to reduce stalling; all of which will require patience on your part.  As you continue on your sleep journey, be kind to yourself, it can be a challenge, but there is always an opportunity, to together, nourish your child’s sleep tendencies.

Article by Lucy Wolfe, Paediatric Sleep Consultant. Find out more about Baby Annabell’s Ask the Experts campaign here.

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