I can still remember my three boys were all under the age of 4 and putting them to bed. Developing and following a consistent feeding and sleep routine was an absolute necessity (mostly to preserve my sanity!). Even though my boys are older now, our bedtime schedule hasn't changed very much. Me being out of the house for an evening doesn't have an impact on our well-established bedtime routine because they know the drill.
These are our top 3 tips for creating and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine for children.
1. Create bedtime routine ASAP!
Hopefully you've figure out what sleep habits work for you and your family when your baby is a newborn or soon after. This is particularly helpful if you also have older children with their own scheduled activities. Know what is convenient and your preferences in terms of after school activities, your bedtime routine (dinner, playtime, bath time, snack time and story time), and what bedtime and breakfast times fit within your family's schedule.
If you have more then one child with varied age gaps, you may want to choose a bedtime routine starting point that is based on the youngest child. For example, if you have a a 15 month old and a 4 year old and bedtime for the 15 month old is 7pm, consider having the 4 year old start quiet time at 7pm, either playing quietly or reading in their room and go down for bed at 7:30pm. Staggering bedtimes helps mom and dad out and also allows for each child to get some individual parent time.
2. Be consistent
Whatever sleep routine you choose, make sure that you are executing it in the same order every night as often as possible. Little children do well when they know what is expected and what is coming up next. So having a snack follower by bath time, brushing teeth, story and then bedtime allows them to know what to expect next (and also less whining and asking for things outside of the routine).
3. Do not negotiate
If you give an inch, they may try to take a mile. If you build a snack, drink of water or potty into the bedtime rountine your child can't ask to get out of bed for the toilet, a bedtime snack or a drink after you have put them to bed.
For potty training purposes, transitioning to a small snack before bed rather than a drink can be helpful to avoid accidents at night. See this post about potty training.