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How to Set a Bedtime Routine (That Actually Works)

By: Dr. Susan Bartell

Bedtime is one of the first and most important opportunities for parents to teach young children the critical life skills of self-soothing and frustration tolerance.


"Once a child learns bedtime skills, they will be able to use them in many other situations as they grow up, such as when they don't get their way socially, when their team loses or when the world doesn’t give them everything they want." - Dr. Susan Bartell


Bedtime is an excellent time to teach this lesson because young children always prefer to rely on a parent to soothe them to sleep, rather than learning how to fall asleep themselves. As children are trained to soothe themselves to sleep, valuable lessons are learned, and the child will develop a stronger sense of self-esteem, autonomy and a feeling of competence.


Six Steps to Setting a Bedtime Routine That Works:

1. The first step is to create an evening and bedtime routine that ideally ends with a kiss goodnight when your child is sleepy, but not yet asleep.

2. The routine should be fairly rigid, as young children find predictability soothing, and a lack of predictable routine causes them to be unsettled and even anxious.

3. Every healthy bedtime routine should begin by making sure that ALL screens—including TV—are turned off at least one hour before bedtime. This should be a hard and fast rule for as many years as you are able to control your child’s media consumption.

4. The important components of the bedtime routine should include dinner, bath time, reading a book or playing a quiet game before heading into bed.

5. It is a good idea to establish a practice of chatting with your child for a few minutes once they are in bed because as kids get older they may use this time to talk to mom or dad about worries or problems from their day.


During this chat it is very important to resist the urge to lie down in bed with your child. Remain sitting on the edge of the bed, or even in a chair next to the bed. This signals your child to get ready to separate from you and begin soothing themselves to sleep.


6. Before your child is asleep, and ideally after no more than ten minutes, it is time to say goodnight. Your child will now need to learn how to fall asleep without your help.

At first this might be difficult, which is when kids often ask parents to stay longer, or call on ingenious delay tactics such as needing a drink or to use the bathroom.

Parents must stay strong and allow their child a little independent fussing until they get the message that you are not staying or returning. This is when the lessons of self-soothing and frustration tolerance are learned.


7. An important part of the routine, which supports your child’s ability to move towards sleep without your help, is to offer a soothing substitute—such as a cuddly doll. For many children—boys and girls—this is a key element to being able to learn self-soothing skills. Since young children have a vivid imagination and an excellent ability to think beyond the practicalities of reality, a doll allows them to feel less lonely or scared.


The Lullaby Baby doll is perfect for this job because not only is it a cozy, warm doll, but it also plays soothing lullaby music which provides a tried and true method for encouraging children towards sleep. The music distracts the child’s brain from worries and provides a calming effect, which, along with the comforting doll offers an excellent means to help your child sleep independently. In addition, Lullaby Baby’s familiar, predictable music signal’s your child’s brain that it is time to quiet down and fall asleep.


A regular and predictable routine along with the help of a bedtime pal should be enough to help your child learn how to fall asleep every night with no stress or fuss. If you find that, despite working hard to teach your child to sleep, he or she is still struggling, it might be a good idea to seek professional help from your child’s pediatrician or a child psychologist.


Occasionally, children struggle to sleep due to medical issues (such a reflux), minor neurological or psychological concerns (like a brain that won’t settle easily, or fears). A doctor can help you assess and treat these challenges so you and your child can quickly get back on track to a good night’s sleep.


Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. For over twenty-five years she has been guiding parents to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children by helping them to understand the developmental needs of their child at every age and by providing strategies to help parents and children through challenging times at every stage of childhood.


To reach Dr. Susan Bartell: (516)944-5856 |

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