When you have an inconsistent baby or toddler, every day is different. When that happens, it’s easy to want to try to find the right “recipe” for good sleep. I remember trying to recreate exact days when my son, who inspired The Baby Sleep Site, slept well the night before or napped well.
A successful bedtime routine is definitely something that is effective for many babies. In fact, if your baby is slower to adapt (i.e. not very “go with the flow”) having consistency definitely helps a lot! But, is there a “perfect” bedtime routine?
A bedtime routine has a couple of goals: 1) To cue your baby or toddler that sleep is on the horizon and 2) Relax your baby or toddler, so she is ready to sleep. There is one more goal that I believe is a good goal to have as well, which is 3) Encouraging a love for reading. That might surprise you, since it’s really not so much about sleep, but I find it to have been invaluable to us!
Here in Ohio, we have something called “The Third Grade Guarantee,” which requires all third graders read at a third grade level before being allowed into fourth grade. Whether or not this is a “good” law can be debate-able, but the important thing here is to set our children up for success. My husband told me that “they” use reading level at third grade as a predictor of the number of prison beds needed in the following decade. While I learned that is technically untrue, there is evidence that poorer reading levels can lead to “unfavorable life outcomes.”
As a mom who had a first grader reading at a fourth grade level and a Kindergartener who is ahead in reading (though not as much as his brother was), it made me rack my brain about what could we have possibly done differently. The main thing I came up with is that ever since the boys were around 4 months old, we’ve read books at bedtime 99.9% of the time. We would sometimes read during the day, too. Maybe that’s not normal. Maybe we are out of the ordinary. Maybe we just got lucky. But, just in case we weren’t, even if it feels like your baby or toddler has no interest (they go through phases), I recommend you keep reading as part of your bedtime routine. Even on days we are running late, I try to fit in 5-10 minutes of reading (sometimes skipping a step in a routine is bad for a slow-to-adapt child anyway!).
So, is there a “perfect” bedtime routine?
Yes – your “perfect” bedtime routine is the one that’s perfect for your family! This means, of course, that the perfect routine will be different for all babies and families. The main key is consistency in routine. And, keep in mind that routine will change as your child grows and changes, too. Toddlers, for example, are lucky to get through one book in 10 minutes, at times, with all the new details they seem to find in the book they’ve read a thousand times like Goodnight Moon! It also sometimes helps not to END the routine with something that is a sleep association, such as feeding. Not only is it very easy to accidentally reinforce the sleep association, some babies react more negatively to being removed from the breast or bottle and then be laid down right away. Some prefer to feed and then cuddle while mom sings Mary Had a Little Lamb, for example. Regardless, in my opinion, reading a book (or 2 or 3) should be a part of every routine.
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