Create a "bedtime routine book" for smoother, happier bedtimes!

Photobook example of a custom-made bedtime routine book

Photobook example of a custom-made bedtime routine book

You’ve heard it said, “A picture paints a thousand words.” That’s especially true when communicating with young children. Which is why when providing sleep support to families with toddlers and preschoolers we often recommend creating a simple, straightforward “bedtime routine book.” 

Why use a visual tool like a bedtime routine book? 

Look at your own day to day activities. Do you have calendars, checklists, post-it notes and other reminders to help you remember what you need to do? Think of a bedtime routine book as a kid-friendly version of all that. A simple booklet acts as a visual tool to communicate expectations and help young children understand the routines. It also helps keep parents from having to repeat themselves over and over again.

Children feel more secure and less anxious when they know what comes next. Having a visual schedule reminds them and clearly shows what the tasks and steps are to prepare and wind down for bedtime.  And, the visual images give children time to process and plan for the upcoming transition.

Time to brush teeth!

Time to brush teeth!

As in all aspects of parenting, consistency and follow-through are key ingredients for success. Without them, you can't expect your child to learn or change their behavior. Having their own bedtime routines booklet helps both parents and children practice consistent, appropriate activities for preparing for sleep. 

Another benefit of a visual tool like this is that the book helps remind children if they forget. And, when the going gets tough, the schedule can take the heat instead of the parent. You might say, “I know you don’t want to put on your pajamas but the schedule says it’s time.”

Goodnight kisses are an important part of a bedtime routine!

Goodnight kisses are an important part of a bedtime routine!

There are many ways to go about creating a booklet for (and with) your child. It can be hand-drawn and taped together or much more elaborate. Because young children respond especially well to pictures of real faces, using pictures of themselves or other children works great. I’m including an example of a customized photo book (like you can order from an online photo service) that a client made for their child. You can also use pictures cut out from magazines or printed off the internet and paste them into a spiral notebook. Or, you can order schedules from Schedule Power, which uses images of real children with clean and simple designs. As you’ll see, the steps should be broken down to be easy to follow and understand.

Here’s what Brooke and Alyson, the creators of Schedule Power, have to say about the benefits of using a visual schedule with children:

Use your schedule to bring a peaceful flow and happy smiles to your day and evening.

1. Give Clear Directions

Instead of “no! stop!” and “don’t”, schedules show children what they should be doing and in what order.

When adults tell children what NOT to do, they assume children can make the logical leap to what they should be doing. But children often don’t and continue to make similar choices. When children are given clear instructions about what they should be doing, they become more confident and cooperative.

2. Focus on the Task

Instead of negotiating, schedules keep children on task with no option to change the plan.

Kids are natural negotiators. Schedules take away the option for other ideas and keep children focused on the task at hand. Adults no longer take the blame for the activity because the schedule is telling the child the plan. “The schedule says it’s nap time.”

3. Encourage Independence

Instead of feeling ordered, schedules empower children to take charge of their day.

We all love to feel in charge of something and let’s face it, for young children there are few opportunities to be in control. Schedule Power gives a child the confidence to understand and manage their routine without adult prompting or nagging. A child boosts their self-esteem each time they complete a step or master an entire routine. They are encouraged to repeat the activity again and try other tasks in the future.

4. Create Consistency

Instead of guessing, schedules allow new adults to successfully help with routines.

Whether it’s a new babysitter or grandparent, adults who use Schedule Power will immediately know the steps in the routine, how far the child has progressed and what activities remain to be completed. New adults can enter the routine confidently and compliment the child from the beginning. “Wow! You already got your pajamas on! Let’s brush your teeth and then I see it’s story time! Yea! I love reading stories with you!”

5. Transition Easily

Instead of redirecting, schedules show children the routine so they can follow it without adult support.

Moving to a new activity can be difficult for young children. Schedules show children which activity they are working on and what activities are next. When children understand their routine, they are more likely to begin the next activity without adult reminders, managing themselves and their emotions.

Do you have a bedtime routine book you’d like to share? Email it and I’ll post it on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Making nap time a positive event

Ready for nap with lovey in hand!

Ready for nap with lovey in hand!

While hiking in Black Mountain, North Carolina last summer, my friend of 25+ years and great aunt to the (overtired) little ones with us asked, "Do any children want to take a nap?” She assumed all children resisted nap time. I assured her, many children do enjoy their naps and will ask for one when they are sleepy.

My experience of working with families shows that a positive attitude toward sleep starts with putting healthy and appropriate routines in place, as well as making sleep a restorative — not punitive — experience. A client with two young children who love their naps said she is careful to present sleep in a positive light and never uses it as a negative consequence. Normalizing times for sleep and helping little ones see the benefits can create a different perspective on taking time out for rest.

First Daze & Nightzzz sleep consultant Kara Curtis recalls when she was a child her mother would tell her, “those sheets are going to feel so yummy” and she’d sign off with “I love you. Happy Nappy.” Kara says, “There is something so comforting about that little special family phrase. She definitely cultivated the idea of sleep as a wonderful luxury that was going to feel so fantastic. And I still feel that exact same way every time I get into my bed as an adult — so delighted to be crawling into my yummy sheets!”

Janet Lansbury, the author of Elevating Childcare, says there are three essential elements to a baby’s or young child’s sleep routine. She calls them the three Ps — peaceful, participatory and predictable. The environment should be peaceful without stimulation from toys, screens, light, and exterior noise. The parent should be relaxed and focused on the matter at hand, giving undivided attention to the sleepy child. Allow the baby or child to participate in preparations which can be as simple as pulling down shades, choosing a book or turning on a white noise machine. All of these steps should be predictable, “so that our children can anticipate the ritual and even lead when we invite them to make choices. Predictability breeds security, which leads to calm, which is the gateway to relaxation and sleep,” Lansbury says. 

Did you read that? Predictability breeds security. Our children feel more secure (hence, less anxious) when they know what comes next. Less anxiety equals calmer child which means easier to fall asleep.

Understandably, young children may feel like they’re going to miss out on something if they stop to sleep. While winding down for nap time, talk about what you will do after their body and brain rests. Let them know they have something to look forward to and with renewed energy to do it. 


A former client relayed a story about her then 3-year-old daughter. She napped a bit later at home on the weekends than she did at daycare during the week. One Saturday while Mom was busy with household chores, her daughter came to her and said, “I’m ready for my nap.” This was music to the mom’s ears. “She loves sleep and told us so herself. If we don't remind her it's nap time she usually reminds us,” the mom said. 

Another former client emailed to tell us how, after using our services when her little one was an infant, the now 4 year old comes to get them when she’s ready for her nap if they get busy and miss it. “She still loves an early bedtime and gets about 11-12 hours of good sleep each night,” the proud (and well-rested) mom said. 

We love working with families early on whenever possible to establish good sleep from the start. If you need help establishing healthy sleep habits, and perhaps revamping attitudes toward sleep, get in touch. And if you already have good sleepers, tell us what worked in your home to create happy and healthy sleep habits.