If you’ve been a parent for more than 5 seconds, you’ve likely heard that a bedtime routine is important for your child’s sleep! As a pediatric sleep specialist, I agree this couldn’t be more true. Bedtime routines and rituals help prepare your child’s brain and body for sleep and help them ease through the transition from daytime to nighttime to sleep.
But, I also believe that bedtime routines are a great place to foster connection between parent and child. For some parents, this is the most one-on-one time they spend with their child if they work away from home or their children are school-aged.
Here are 4 ways, depending on the age of your child, to foster connection in your bedtime routine:
- Massage (infant): There are not many steps in a young infant’s bedtime routine, and most are pretty tactical (feeding, bath, PJs/diaper, etc.), but incorporating some infant massage into your routine can build a strong connection with your child and offer a way for their body and nervous system to relax and calm before bed. Lots of great YouTube videos, and parent courses taught by massage therapists, on the topic if you’re looking for some instruction.
- Massage (toddler and preschoolers): Massage can be fun as your child grows, too, but I recommend you make it a bit more interactive! My favorite massage activity is called “Pizza Massage” and it involves “making a pizza” on your child’s back and then letting them make one on yours. You can knead the dough, roll it out, and then let your child pick the toppings they want on it! You can also explore all other types of baking as well!
- Pre-Bedtime Routine (toddlers through big kids): Once your child is walking (running, dancing, etc.), it can be super fun to carve out 10-15 extra minutes before you head to bathe for a little pre-bedtime routine. Start with 2-3 minutes of high energy activity (dancing to your child’s favorite song, hokey pokey, etc.), then move into a few minutes of joint “play” (a quick puzzle, or sitting and doing “wheels on the bus” song together), then the last few minutes a more calm stretching activity (Itsy Bitsy Spider, I’m a Little Teapot, or even a few yoga poses). This does a few things! For one, it builds in dedicated connection time, but also brings your child’s energy levels up to get out that last bit of energy, then brings it down to a more calm state to move into your bedtime routine.
- Gratitude Practice (toddlers through big kids): After books and before hopping into bed, incorporating a gratitude practice is a fun way to connect with your child and reflect on their day. In our home, we each share 3 things we are grateful for from the day. It’s so sweet and a great point of connection, especially if you’ve had a busy day and haven’t had time to “talk” about the day. Prayers or a journaling activity (older kids) can also be substituted here.
It can be easy, as parents, to want to rush through our bedtime routines as it is the last “parenting” we have to do until morning. But, carving out just a few extra minutes for some connection time can not only strengthen your bond with your child and allow them to end their day on a super positive note, but also can improve your wake to sleep transition.