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Why do children like routine?

Whether it’s the green brussel sprout sitting on their dinner plate, or a big life event like moving to a different school. It is common for children to have fear around the unknown. However, this is life and we can’t avoid these scenarios and we wouldn’t want to either.

Repetition and structure derived from daily routines at home help children feel safe. When a child knows what to expect, using predictable routines, it creates a positive and stable living environment to grow up in. In turn, this helps children manage better with the bigger and less predictable things in life.

 “I want my teddy, where’s my pink shoe, can I have a cookie, I need a wee wee, can I have a cuddle, my bed feels wet, no, I don’t want to clean my teeth, I want a drink, I’m too hot, no I want to stay and watch TV……..”

This might sound familiar! Nagging or power struggles to get your child to go to bed at the end of the day is exhausting. It becomes a negative experience that everyone starts to dread.

Now I’m not trying to suggest every bedtime will be perfect with a routine in place. Far from it. But by building a regular and predictable routine you can help beat this negative pre-bedtime war and use this space to have some special time with your child at the end of a busy day.

Once you have an established bedtime routine, you as the parent can become more of a companion in your child’s day, rather than the person who is telling their child what to do all the time. In turn, the child will feel valued. Creating a sense of independence and empowerment as they grow.

Effects on health and development

For the last 70 years, scientists in Britain have been following thousands of children through their lives as part of the longest running human study.  The study looked at the bedtime routines of about 10,000 children and the data found that those children who were going to bed at different times were more likely to have behavioural problems and sleep issues. What’s more interesting, once that child switched to having a regular bedtime routine and regular sleep time, this then triggered an improvement in their behaviour.

Other studies support this, showing children with a regular bedtime routine have higher scores in expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities. Having a regular, early bedtime was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures.

So how does routine help a child sleep?

I often talk to parents whose children struggle with multiple night waking, early wake ups and struggles getting their child to sleep. One of the first things I look at in detail is the child’s bedtime routine.

Some people believe that their child will sleep longer if they stay up later and miss their bedtime. This is just not true. The body secretes adrenaline hormones when overtired. This can make bedtime really difficult to manage. It also causes more wake ups in the night and actually encourages early morning waking. It’s important to understand, the ability for a child to “lie in” when they are catching up from a late-night sleep does not usually occur until a child is around 7 years old.

The bedtime routine signals to your child’s mind and body that it’s night time. Creating a memory that it is time for sleep. They then feel physically and mentally ready for bed.  An important part of developing independence is having the skills to settle yourself down when you are tired or stressed. Bedtime routines help children learn this skill.


Making bedtime routine a regular pattern in their daily life means occasionally staying up late and missing bedtime can be a fun event rather than a regular unhealthy pattern.

Teaching a child how to transition from the busy day to a relaxed state ready for sleep is a powerful skill. Promoting independence, self-soothing and the ability to calm and relax. Something which they can continue to apply to all parts of life.

The bedtime routine communicates to everyone that the day is over and it’s time for sleep. When you are loving and assertive about when it is time for bed, you are building assurance and confidence in your child’s world.

Giving your child a regular routine before bed could be such a powerful yet very easy step to incorporate into daily life. It will have long term benefits to their health, development and sleep.  This is something that all parents can achieve. It’s doable for everyone.

If you wish to discuss your child’s sleep issues further, Kate at  SimpleSleep is a certified sleep consultant, nurse and mother. Kate knows only too well that not getting enough sleep effects our state of mind, feelings, relationships and health. She feels strongly that healthy sleep habits make for healthy children. A well-rested child is curious, energetic, happy, playful, and eager to learn. To get you started on the right track she offers a free consultation to all new parents. You can also go directly to her website for up to date information and articles on things all sleep related!


Kate Fergusson