Bedtime habits

When Dealing With An Infant:

  • Make the nighttime routine consistent and pleasant.  
  • Give the baby his last nighttime feeding shortly before putting him to bed. Never put the child to bed with a bottle, as it can cause Tooth decay. (See baby bottle Tooth decay.)  
  • Spend quiet time with your child, whether it be rocking, walking, or simple cuddling.  
  • Put the child in his bed before he is deeply asleep. This will teach your child to go to sleep on his own.  
  • If your baby cries when you lay him in his bed, it is because he fears being away from you. This is called separation anxiety. Do not ignore his crying or you establish that his worst fear is true, that you have left. Simply go in and speak in a calm voice and rub his back or head. Do not remove him from his bed. When he has calmed, then once again leave the room. Your child will soon learn that you are simply in another room and talking to him from the other room will suffice.  
  • If the baby wakes in the night for feeding, do not turn on the lights but maintain a dark and quiet atmosphere. Use night lights for your convenience. Do not entertain the baby, keep the feeding as brief and boring as possible. When the baby is fed, burped and calm, return the baby to bed. If this routine is maintained your baby will be accustomed to it and go to sleep on his own.


When Dealing With An Older Child:

  • Make the nighttime routine pleasant and predictable. Children love ritual.  
  • Whatever the activities, such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading stories, saying prayers, and so forth, keep them in the same order.  
  • Before you turn out the light, ask “Do you need anything else?”  
  • Establish rules that the child cannot leave the bedroom.  
  • Ignore verbal requests after the child has gone to bed.  
  • If your child starts screaming, shut the door to his bedroom and tell him “I’m sorry I have to shut your door. I will open it when you are quiet.” If your child comes out of their room, avoid the lectures, just maintain good eye contact and tell the child that you will open the door again when the child is in bed. If the child says he is in bed, open the door.  
  • If your child tries to climb into your bed at night, unless he is fearful, return him to his bed as soon as you discover his presence. Avoid lectures or pleasant conversation. If your child simply cannot sleep, tell him he may read or look at books in his room, but he is not to disturb other people in the family.  
  • Praise your child for appropriate bedtime behavior.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Sharon M. Smith, M.D.

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