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Bedtime Rituals for Babies and Toddlers

Table of Contents

Making Your Baby Feel Happy and Loved During Bedtime

Finally, it's almost bedtime for your child. The little one has been washed and put into pajamas. Their teeth have been brushed and they have been hydrated. 

You have already started to consider which show you want to stream after that glorious silence reigns in the home.

But, then you remind yourself.

As a parent or caretaker, you don't want to see child-raising as a series of tasks on a checklist. You're not a robot.

You want to instill within them a love-of-life and happiness. You want bedtime to be memorable and warm, so they drift off to sleep with a smile on their face.

Getting Ready For Bed
@arina_krasnikova

But, how?

Below are some ideas for bedtime rituals to increase the good vibrations of your home as it settles down for the night. 

Obviously, your choice of ritual will depend on your (and your child's) mood, style and preference.

Many of these ideas overlap in category and you'd do well if some were combined with others. 

It would be impossible to thank everyone who submitted their rituals personally, but the overwhelming majority come from the @DontPlayWithThat community on TikTok. Major thanks to all of you!

Physical Touch Between Parent and Child

Physical touch is one of the love languages for all people. But this need is heightened when it comes to a parent and their child. Especially at bedtime.

As Ana Aznar and Harriet Tenenbaum write in this scientific paper:

"Touch has also been found to communicate positive emotions and moreover, different types of touch communicate different types of emotions. Thus, parent–child interpersonal touch has long-lasting implications for children’s physical and psychological development."

Mother Kissing Baby Before Bed
@mart.production

Here are some ideas relating to physical touch that you can use as a bedtime ritual:

1. Cuddles

The tried-and-true pre-bedtime cuddle is sure to make any heart happy.

2. Head Rub

A good head rub before bed will likely help calm any child.

3. Foot Rub

Gentles foot massages can assuage any soreness from playing during the day and will simmer a toddler down.

4. Brush Hair

Although this may be more of a post-bath task, if done endearingly, hair-brushing can be a tender moment.

5. Blow On Cheeks

Blowing on your child's cheeks maybe the closest thing to touching, without actually making contact. This sweet moment can also help cool a child down.

6. Lap-Sitting

While having your child sit on your lap may feel a bit more buttoned-up than regular cuddles, this likely allows for more considered conversations and an emphasis on rules.

7. Look Into Eyes

However you're situated, when a parent looks into their child's eyes, a deep sense of love and honesty is created.

8. Stroke Fingers Across Face

Anything face-related will feel intimate and the stroking will likely cause soothing chills.

9. Twelve Hugs

Studies have shown that 12 hugs throughout a day is conducive for personal growth.

10. Apply Lavender Lotion

The intimacy created through skincare is probably the case with all lotions and moisturizers. The pungent smell of lavender will only increase the experience!

11. Stroke Pregnant Belly

This one obviously only works when another child is on the way. This act of sweetness will prepare your child for their sibling and create a love to both them and mom.

Story Time Before Bed

There is nothing quite like bonding with your child over a story.

Whether it's read from a book or concocted in an adult's mind, so long it's said with animation, a book can really ignite the minds and hearts of little ones.

Story Time At Bedtime
@linakivaka

12. Read the Classics

Whether it's Goodnight Moon or Llama Llama Red Pajama, the classic children's bedtime books always create the right atmosphere.

13. Read a Book of Faith

Whether it's from the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, or another book of faith, children-tailored stories will have your little one feel protected and purposeful. 

14. Read a Book of Poetry

Children's poetry ranges from the silly to the profound. Either way, hearing poetry before bed will have both the right and left sides of the brain ignited. Shel Silverstein is an everlasting favorite. Have your child choose a random number and go ahead and read that page of poetry!

15. Make Your Own Adventure

Start a made-up story off with a character or two (they can be the child themselves, a friend or someone completely made-up)  and a child-relatable setting. Ask your child what they want the characters to do. Allow for a variation of choices as the story unfolds. Be sure to tack on some challenges that your little one will need to find solutions for!

16. Story From the Past

A story that can be about the children themselves, their parents, grandparents or a friend. So long you are recounting something interesting that once happened, it doesn't matter if it's as simple as a hike or as meaningful as how grandma met grandpa. 

17. Each Child Adds a Book

As a family continues to grow, there will be many style preferences and age ranges in books. A lovely family bonding moment which is also educational, is to allow each child to choose a book and then sit down together and read through all of them!

18. Wish the Characters Good Night

Whichever of the above storytelling methods you chose, it's always cute to wish these characters a good night. If they appear in an illustrated book, maybe even give them a kiss!

Bedtime Songs and Music

A good voice is not required for a parent to sing to their child. I am talking from experience!

Singing a song does for children what it does for adults. It can enliven a moment, evoke love or simply pass the time.

The following are some song ideas!

Singing to toddler

19. Lullabys

This ritual is centuries old - The sweet image of a parent tucking their child in, to a stirring melody, is as iconic as it is evocative. Classics include: Stay Awake (from Mary Poppins), Moon River, Baby Beluga and You Are My Sunshine.

20. Duet A Song

As your child grows, they will be able to join the singing at different points. This can start from a young age, with a toddler plugging a missing word into a song. Like, "You are my sun--" where they respond "shine."

21. Song Choice

A sweetly collaborative ritual, where the child chooses the song to be sung for that night. Be warned, you may be surprised at their choice of song. One parent described her kid's frequent choice: the theme from Star Trek!

22. Artist of the Night

This ritual is where a different music-artist is focused-on each night and their songs are listened-to and discussed. This can be done in alphabetical order or more arbitrarily. What a great way to introduce your favorite musicians to your spawn!

23. Make Up a Silly Song

For this one, simply take any straightforward tune and add your own made-up lyrics. There's no real way to plan the words to this goofy performance. It will depend on both of your moods. Extra points if you include elements of the past day!

Expressing Love Before Bed

Studies have shown that a child's self worth (a critical factor in development) is affected by the frequency they receive 'expressions of affection.'

For most parents, wishing their child a good night and saying "I love you" go hand-and-hand. Below are some more unique ways of expressing that love.

Expressing Love To Your Child Before Bedtime

24. I Love You More

Start a mini-contest with your child in who loves the other more. This can be with outstretched arms, measuring how much the 'this much' is that you love them. Or you can compare the size of your love to big things and continue to get bigger. E. g. "My love for you is as big as this table." "Well, my love for you is as big as this house!"

25. Happy To Be Your Parent

List to your little one all of the reasons that you are thrilled and proud to be their parents. Include both, accomplishments and good character traits.

26. Repeat Expressions of Love After Each Other

This one may be more befitting a younger child. Have them repeat after you as you say various expressions of love. Obviously, keep the sentences short so they can be easily remembered.

27. I Love You In Sign Language

Easily learned with this simple tutorial, this expression of affection makes the love more concrete because it involves body movement. Plus, you'll be able to make the next deaf person you meet happy!

28. Pinky Promise Eternal Love

The Pinky Promise may seem childish, but this pact can actually be meaningful to children. So, when a parent makes the solemn vow with their child to love them forever, a child's heart becomes ablaze.

Centering and Mindfulness at Bedtime

Babies and toddlers, heck, even older kids, are usually not ready to meditate or think profoundly, until much later in life. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize to them the things that truly matter, even if it's more of a mantra.

Besides, sometimes the deepest of sentiment can only be expressed in the simplest of terms. Where adults obfuscate, children see clearly.

Child Praying Before Bed
@bintimaludotcom

29. Prayer

It doesn't matter which faith your family subscribes to, praying will put things in perspective and facilitate gratitude and contented purpose. Most of all, it underscores an entity beyond the self which is worth striving for.

30. Affirmations

Not unlike prayer in that it offers a moral and ideal clarity, which is often lacking in the day-to-day tasks. Affirmations like: 'tomorrow is a fresh start' or 'I can accomplish anything I put my mind towards' are both classics.

31. Calm App

The Calm App utilizes a series of guided meditations and soothing sounds to lead its users to better sleep and lower stress.

32. Bad Dream Prevention

Admittedly superstitious, random acts of bad dream prevention has little science behind it. These include, but aren't limited to, blowing away all bad dreams before bed or yelling "Shoo! Shoo!" Who knows, maybe the placebo affect is at play!

Pre-Bedtime Conversations

Educational conversations help a child learn to navigate life, but endearing and affectionate words will put them in the frame of mind necessary to want to grow.

Below are some ideas for conversation topics or communications of affection to share with your little one before bed.

Child Talking In Bed

33. Go Through Past Day

As your little settles in for bed, try asking them about the more noteworthy parts of their day. This will help them assess the activities more clearly, give them a nostalgic and warm feeling about the day and hype the next time these activities will come up in the future.  

34. List Favorite Parts of Day

While similar to the last one, this is less tied to the chronology of the day and is left more in the hands of the child to choose their favorite, no matter how random it is!

35. Past/Future Dreams

Let your child share what their dream was from the night before or today's nap-time. They likely won't remember many details, but this will get them introspective and thinking about sleep. Speaking of what they want to dream about in tonight's sleep is also an option.

36. Good Night To Everyone and Everything

Wish a good night to each item in the room individually or all the people they saw that day or all the loved ones in your child's life. Goodnight mouse and goodnight house!

37. Picture Albums

Flip through the pages of photo albums and speak about what is going on in the pictures and the people they see. This exercise will send them on adventures inside of their mind.

38. FaceTime Family and Friends

Say goodnight to family (and friends) that live outside of their home. Feel the love and interest that only loved-ones can provide.

39. Consider What Can Be Improved

This may be more of a difficult conversation, but discussing ones shortcomings in a nonjudgemental way is an effective path toward correcting them. Even the conversation in its own right is healthy, because it underlines that not being perfect is not something to be ashamed of.

40. Apologize For Mistake

This one is related to the last one. It involves making amends for misdeeds from throughout the day. This offers both sides of a difficulty some closure and the feeling that their concerns have been heard.

41. Practice New Words

As a child grows, more and more words are added to their repertoire. If note is taken each time a new word is learned, those words can be practiced a handful of times before bed. The learning that happens before bed is better impressed into a young mind's memory.

42. Discuss TV Episode

Most of our children watch some TV throughout the day. You can make it a more educational and perceptive experience by engaging your child in conversation about what they saw and what they think about it. 

Activities and Play Before Bedtime

Some people consider any vigorous or fun activity before bed to be contrary to the restful nature of the time-of-day. 

This is a valid point, yet others see it as an opportunity to end the day on a happy note and to exhaust any lingering energy so that bedtime can be as calm as possible.

Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine and author of 'Become Your Child's Sleep Coach' sums it up this way:

"Helping your toddler be very active during the day can definitely help with sleep. 
- Being active leads to physical fatigue which increases the sleep drive. 
- Being active also helps reduce stress (at any age!). 
- Being active during the day helps a child feel more ready to settle into sleep at bedtime."
Tickling Toddler Before Bed
@yankrukov

43. Tickles

What is a generally popular way of goofing around with your kids, is also a fun way to bond before bed. Simply pinpoint the regions that your child is most ticklish, and go to town! Be sure to leave some space for breathing!

44. Shadow Puppet Show

The creation of shadow puppets may seem a bit hands on, but in reality, all you need is a dark room and a cell phone flashlight. Craft a story with your puppet character or just have it interact with your little one.

45. Coloring Book

The act of filling in a coloring book is so therapeutic, even adults have started doing it. This creative exercise balances fun with the calming aura of art.

46. Dance Party

Crank up the music and let out all of your energy on the dance floor. Dancing is a terrific way to release built up energy while spending time with your child before bed.

47. Monkey on the Bed

This game has almost no rules. It just involves your toddler monkeying around in bed, moments before you turn the vibe in a more calm direction.

48. Hide and Seek

Play one round of the conventional hide and seek game, only in this case, your child knows that once you've hunted them down, they're going to be hauled to bed.

49. Stuffed Animals

Converse with your collection of stuffed animals as your little one winds down for the night. Some parents have the custom of letting their child choose one or two of the stuffed friends to bring with them to bed. 

50. Mode of Transportation to Bed

Have your toddler choose how they wish to brought to their bed. Perhaps like an airplane, with outstretched arms, flying horizontally. Or maybe like zooming car or a slow turtle. One thing is for sure, sound effects are encouraged!

51. Take a Walk

This one is likely only an option in the summer time or in warm climates (unless you're ambitious enough to bundle up in full winter garb). A pleasant stroll before bed is both relaxing and good exercise!

Odds, Ends and Quirks

Some of the best pre-bedtime rituals are hard to pin-down into one category. Some of these are quite conventional and others are straight-up weird. Normal is boring!

52. Warm Drink

This story-book end to a long day really does work wonders. Who knew a beverage can warm both body and soul? Some parents know this one by its nickname: snug n' chug. Just be sure that the drink isn't too sugary!

53. Lay in Parents' Bed

Many of the previous rituals can be done in most locations. Mom and dad's bed is one of the best places to choose. Allowing your little one into your bed evokes feelings of openness and being wanted. Share your days or engage in a tickle-fest, but if a warm drink is being served, make there is a lid on top!

54. Project a Light Show

While this does seem a bit stimulating for bedtime, a light show may be just the thing that is calming enough for bedtime but mesmerizing enough to keep a toddler interested. Just be sure to choose one that has fewer bright or flashing lights.

55. Build a Crib Fort

Put your little one's ingenuity to work by building a fort in their crib with them. This one has the added benefit of making their crib a more appealing place to be as they settle in for sleep.

56. Point Child Out In Mirror

Babies and toddlers are captivated by their appearance in a mirror. Use this fact to your advantage by pointing out their features in the reflection. Discussing which body part is which, is educational and interesting to the young. "Who is that cute baby?!"

Baby In Mirror
@mart.production

57. Leave Room For Extra Growth

Leaning into the dad-joke realm, leave some extra room while tucking your child in, for them to grow overnight. This is especially apropos on the night before their birthday!

58. Action-Packed Pajamas

Throw, punch, twist and exaggerate each article of your child's pajamas. This goofiness will help to make the change of clothing a fun time of day.

59. Count Sheep Weirdly

Instead of simply counting sheep to fall asleep, describe each one in a unique way. Say hello to pink, polka dot and grumpy sheep as you say goodbye to the past day.

60. Turn Off Lights With Unusual Limb

Let your child choose the part of your body with which you will flick the light-switch off. This will make the final goodbye for the day more positive by putting the decision in their court.

61. Secret Handshake

Develop a secret handshake with your toddler, that only the two of you know. This will excite them before bed and grant them the peace-of-mind the comes with belonging.

Let us know in the comments, which rituals you've chosen or if there are any we've missed!

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