A couple of hours prior to your child's bedtime, put away your child's toys and begin transitioning from active playtime to passive playtime. If your babe is old enough, have her help and say "good night" to each toy as you put it away for the evening. Pull out a book or a teddy bear, and sit together to read or cuddle for a short while. Or watch a video—the Baby Einstein collection provides a positive interactive visual experience for parents and children to share. Later, turn down the lights and TV or stereo, and reduce the stimuli within your child's immediate surroundings. These "subtle preparations," as Dr. Karp refers to them, are beneficial steps in any bedtime ritual.
Food, Glorious Food
Dinnertime is a part of everyone's evening routine—but not often thought of as part of a bedtime ritual. What your baby eats now, and the atmosphere in which she eats, can affect how she'll sleep later. Serving children rich, mild, satisfying foods—such as avocado, or mixing a bit of olive oil into vegetables or baby food—provides healthy fats for growing brains, and simultaneously satisfies tummies for the long stretch of sleep ahead. Encouraging your child to eat a filling, healthful meal before bedtime can help prevent her from waking up hungry during the night.
Differentiate this meal from other daytime meals by making it a quieter affair. Turn the TV off, mute the ringer on your phone, and dim the lights during your meal. Use this time to focus on your family and enjoy each other's quiet company.
A favorite step in many families' bedtime rituals is bath time. There are several bath milks, oils, and bubble baths on the market with safe and natural ingredients to help calm your baby. Burt's Bees, Mustela, and Kiss My Face all make bath products with soothing aromatherapy for babies and children.
If you are bathing a very young baby, refrain from including anything that might irritate her skin in the bath. However, you can still treat your child to the benefits of aromatherapy. Position an infant tub inside your own bathroom tub; fill the outer tub with a shallow level of warm water (careful to not let it overflow into your infant's tub), close the bathroom door, and add a couple of drops of essential oil to the outer bath. The warm, relaxing steam and aroma will add an extra bonus to bath time.
Bath time is also a good time to brush teeth and hair and talk about the day together. For toddlers, it is good to process all of the day's happenings and feelings. Also, remind your little one that it is getting close to bedtime (toddlers are discovering what is negotiable and non-negotiable in their routines—gentle reminders that bedtime is a fixed event can help prevent battles when it is time to finally say "goodnight").
Applying a bit of baby oil or lotion after a bath is the perfect time to perform baby massage. A growing number of pediatricians advocate massage as a sleep helper—and studies have found it to be a tonic for your baby's nervous and immune systems. The Touch Research Institute, a distinguished team of researchers, representing Duke, Harvard, Maryland, and other universities based at the University of Miami, reports that "infants who received massage therapy before bedtime by a parent experienced less difficulty falling asleep and better sleep patterns." Perform this ritual in your child's room or nursery and keep the lights off or down low. If you are confused about how to perform baby massage, there is a plethora of tips and resources online. Makewayforbaby.com is a good place to start. This site includes easy to follow steps, as well as illustrations for performing simple baby massage techniques.
Finish spa time together by playing soft music or singing a special bedtime song together.