Nighttime Rituals

73032723When I was about three years old I developed a fear of the dark.  I can remember being terrified in complete darkness and feeling so comforted by a nightlight or a hall light left on with my bedroom door left open.  I don’t remember what precipitated the fear, but I do remember it was real and I really appreciated it when my parents responded compassionately.

Every time they left a nightlight on for me or left the door cracked with the hall light on, I felt loved, cared for, and reassured. Somehow because my fears were addressed attentively, I knew that I was important to my parents and an integral part of my family.  We created a bedtime routine that was a safe haven from my fears and helped me look forward to sleeping, rather than being fearful or cranky about it.

I can’t imagine how devastated I would have been if my parents had ignored my fear or somehow invalidated it with phrases like, “Oh, you’re fine, don’t worry about it.”  Instead, we created these little nighttime rituals that put me at ease and helped me relax to sleep easily.

I think nighttime rituals are a very important way to establish comfort, predictability, and consistency for children.  And when young people have the consistency they need in order to relax themselves to sleep, they fall sleep faster, sleep better and longer and enjoy bedtime much more.

Do you currently have a nighttime ritual that works well?  Is it time for an upgrade?  Here are some of the components of a nighttime ritual that I’ve seen work well with kids.

1)    Bath, pajama and tooth-brushing time- this is a fun time to put on some music, splash and play, dance those sillies out, and do some self-grooming activities.  Whatever your routine, consistency is the key.  If you brush teeth after bath, then do it at about the same time every evening and definitely do things in the same order.  This helps little ones know what to expect next and will minimize any objections.  Also, try not to rush this time.  If you can allow 30-45min. each evening for this part of your nighttime ritual, your child will have the time he or she needs to wind down from the day.

2)    Story-time.  I can’t stress enough how important it is that children have at least 20 minutes every day when you read to them.  Even grade school children who can read for themselves will benefit from you reading them a chapter each night from a more challenging and complex book than they might otherwise read.  Consider beginning story time with energy, but begin to relax, lower your voice, and slow your reading as you wrap things up.

3)    A rhyme, riddle, and/or affection ritual.  Some hugs, snuggles, and affectionate words can go a long way to soothing any fears, expressing love, and beginning sleep time on a positive note.   But a preference for this can vary vastly from child to child, so be sure that you check in to be sure your child is enjoying the ritual.

4)    Lights out (mostly) and quiet time consistency.  After you’ve completed your nighttime ritual, it’s very important that you cease to interact for the rest of the night.  If your child gets up and wants to talk, quietly direct them back to bed without engaging in a conversation.  The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley is a great resource for how to create bedtime consistency that works well for everyone.

The key is to be clear, consistent, compassionate and caring at bedtime.  I know it’s not always easy, but I guarantee your kids will thank you for it if you’re able to pull it off.

I would love to hear about your own nighttime rituals and how these strategies have worked for you.  Please share something with us all in the comment box below.

Have a wonderful, restful week!  Hugs, Shelly


Hey Karla, According to Elizabeth Pantley who wrote "The no-cry sleep solution for toddlers and preschoolers", a 2 1/2 year old needs about 13- 13 1/2 hours of sleep a day. That includes both nighttime sleep and naps. If I were you, I'd try to start the bedtime routine earlier, it sounds like your son could be overly tired and you might be surprised at how much more quickly and smoothly it would go if you started a half hour to an hour earlier. Given how little he's sleeping at night right now, he would need a 4 hour nap to get the average recommended amount of sleep for his age group!

I do recommend the book I mentioned above. It's a great reference and has super strategies about how to shorten the bedtime routine and how to help your child fall asleep on his own more consistently. Good luck and please contact me at if you'd like to do a coaching session about this! Warmly, Shelly
.-= Shelly´s last blog ..Pets help kids learn empathy =-.

Karla Bond
Karla Bond

Bedtime is hard for us. My son is 2 1/2 and we have a set routine on what we do. Bedtime starts at 8:30 but he seems so wired it sometimes takes and hour an a half for him to actually get to bed. It’s exhausting. Lately I have been putting him to bed at 10pm and he seems okay but I wonder if that is enough sleep. He gets up about 6:45.
.-= Karla Bond´s last blog ..Why Your Weight Returns =-.


Audrey and Ettie, I'm so glad you're finding your way to a nighttime routine that works well for you!

Jackie, Good point! Anytime we get too attached to a specific outcome or a specific routine, it can have the opposite effect, causing more stress instead of less. I'm happy to hear that you're finding a balance that works well for you and your child.

Thanks for your comments and please keep 'em coming!
.-= Shelly´s last blog ..Nighttime Rituals =-.


I tend to be an "all or nothing" kind of person (which I'm working on) so I've actually had to kind of let go of our nightly ritual. We still read 2 books and have snuggles every night, but sometimes it happens in my room, sometimes it happens earlier or later. I've found by letting go of a little control over the night time ritual ~ and not feeling it has to be "perfect" every night we have much smoother evenings (because I'm not dreading bedtime) and bedtimes because it's fun and much more relaxed. It's also gotten much easier to get my little one to go to sleep!
.-= Jackie´s last blog ..What’s holding you back? =-.


Thanks for that , I have been under a ot of stress lately with college work and dropped the ball a bit with the kids routine and they hae sufferd as a result being inable to get to sleep as they did before. We read two books 1 for each child and two bedtime songs again 1 for each child and the a short reading from the Bible and prayer, but we tend to rush, sos I will start earlier to factor in the shake your sillys and 20 min wind down and see how it goes.


After reading Debbie Pokornik's "Break Free of Parenting Pressures," I decided I need to change some things in my routines with my daughter. I'm glad to read your article and totally agree with your take on reading 20 minutes a day. We started doing this each night together and it has helped my daughter wind down and relax. I also love that special time we have together!
.-= Audrey´s last blog ..Zhu Zhu Pets Are Getting Cheap Again =-.


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