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How to Build a Night Routine for Kids

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Remember those nights of endless summer fun when staying up late seemed like a given? Kids still crave that feeling, making consistent bedtimes challenging to enforce. A night routine can help you and your kids fall asleep and sleep better. As someone who works with kids of all abilities, I know firsthand that a solid night routine can make a huge difference. It doesn’t just make those nighttime battles easier; it helps everyone sleep better and can even make mornings less chaotic. In this blog, I’ll cover why routines matter, how to build a customized night routine for your child, and offer tips for staying on track even when things get hectic.

Why Night Routines Matter

Routines offer so many benefits for both kids and caregivers. Here’s why they’re worth setting up, especially when it comes to those crucial hours before bed:

  • Creates predictability: Kids, especially neurodivergent kids, thrive on a predictable schedule. This reduces uncertainty and the related anxieties that can make bedtime rough.
  • Signals the brain: Maintaining a consistent night routine helps your child’s brain and body wind down. Over time, the routine itself acts as a cue that it’s time to transition to sleep mode.
  • Encourages independence: Routines give kids an age-appropriate sense of control. Young children can follow simple routines, reducing power struggles and building confidence.
  • Improved mornings: Good sleep significantly impacts how kids feel and behave. With adequate rest, your child will likely have smoother mornings, better focus, and improved emotional regulation.
Read more: When Do Kids Start Sleeping Through the Night?

How to Build a Night Routine for Your Kid

There’s no “perfect” night routine that works for all kids. Tailor this with your kid’s needs and preferences in mind.

Choose a Relaxing Routine

Here are some ideas for a night routine:

  • Set a bedtime: Stick to a consistent bedtime and sleep schedule.
  • Avoid electronics: Turn off phones, TVs, and computers at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Don’t drink or eat food three hours before bed. Avoid caffeine before bed.
  • Relax: Try a warm bath, gentle stretching, or deep breathing. You can also try meditation, mindfulness, or visualization.
  • Create a restful environment: Dim the lights and block out outside noise. You can also listen to relaxing music or read a book.
  • Other ideas: Put away electronics, have a light snack, bedtime tea, or journal.

Start Simple, Start Small

When starting out, keep the night routine short and simple. Don’t feel like you have to overhaul everything at a time! A 2017 study published in Child Development suggests that the key is consistency instead of lengthy or involved routines.

Build Up Gradually

Over time, you can gradually add more steps or specific details to the routine. Consider using visuals or charts for younger kids or kids who benefit from picture schedules.

Involve Your Child

The more input your child has in the routine, the more likely they will participate without fuss. You can give them simple choices within the routine (e.g., “Bath or shower first?”).

Read more:  Does ADHD Affect Sleep?

Tools for Effective Night Routines

Here are a few simple tools to help kids stay on track and promote independence:

  • Visual schedules: Kids, especially those with thinking and learning differences, often find step-by-step pictures easier to follow than verbal directions. This helps them “see” the schedule and anticipate the next step. You can create a visual schedule, find printable versions online, or use a sticker chart.
  • Bedtime countdown: A clock that visually signals how much time kids have left before bed can be beneficial. Some kid-friendly clocks change colors as bedtime approaches, making it concrete for them.
  • Reward Systems: Simple positive reinforcement, like stickers or checkmarks, can motivate kids to stay on track.

Tips for Staying on Track

Life happens, and it can be hard to keep routines perfectly consistent. Here’s how to get back on track if things derail:

  • Flexibility is vital: Sometimes disruptions are unavoidable. Adapt and pick back up the routine the following night.
  • Make it fun: Include enjoyable activities to keep it upbeat and exciting.
  • Expect slip-ups: Roll with it and get back on track without self-judgment or blaming your child.
  • Celebrate little wins: Praise your child’s efforts, even if following the routine wasn’t always perfect.
night routine occurring with mom and dad reading a bedtime story to their child.
Read More: Does My Child Have a Sleep Disorder? Take The Quiz!

Example: Night Routine Visual Schedule

Here’s a simple example to illustrate this. Make sure you adapt it to fit your child’s needs.

StepPictureDescription
1 Take a bath or shower
2 Put on pajamas
3 Brush teeth and wash face
4 Read a bedtime story
5 Get into bed

Goally | Apps To Structure Your Kiddo’s Routine

Does your child struggle with transitions or staying on task? Goally’s visual schedule app breaks down large tasks into small, achievable steps. It helps kids complete their tasks independently! 

Create custom routines with your own videos & pictures for every step. The steps come in small, bite-sized pieces to help your child learn the little fundamentals (like putting the toothpaste on their toothbrush!) to achieve bigger goals. And that’s just the beginning.

Conclusion

Building and maintaining a night routine takes a little effort and time, but the payoffs are enormous. You’ll find that a predictable nighttime routine isn’t just a sanity-saver for caregivers; it helps set your child up for better sleep, happier mornings, and an overall boost in well-being. Now, customize this to find the best for your family and watch the changes begin.

Further Resources:

  • Child Mind Institute: Provides an in-depth look at how ADHD impacts sleep and offers specific tips.
  • The National Sleep Foundation: This resource features sleep needs by age along with further explanations about the importance of sleep.
  • Understood: Offers actionable sleep strategies tailored to kids with ADHD and other related disabilities.

This post was originally published on August 22nd, 2023. It was updated on February 19th, 2024.


FAQS About Night Routines:
Question 1: Why are night routines important for kids?
Answer: Night routines create predictability and signal the brain that it's time to wind down, leading to better sleep and smoother mornings.

Question 2: What are some essential elements of a night routine?
Answer:  A good night routine might include a bath, brushing teeth, reading a story, and listening to calming music.

Question 3: How can I make a night routine fun for my child?
Answer: Let your child choose some activities for the routine (like their favorite story) and consider using a visual schedule or reward chart.

Question 4: What if my child has trouble sticking to a night routine?
Answer:  Start small with a simple routine and be patient. Consistency is key, even if there are occasional slip-ups.

Question 5: How do I build a night routine for my neurodivergent child?
Answer: Tailor the night routine to your child's specific needs. Visual schedules, sensory-friendly activities,
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