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Getting to Sleep

Finding the Right Routine

How soon should you start bedtime rituals? And what's the best routine for a toddler?

Pieper: Even in the first months, babies respond to routines because there's a security in predictability. So it's good to do things in the same order each night: Give them a bottle, then burp them, then put them down.

With toddlers, make the transition as smooth as possible. Try to take care of the tasks your child doesn't enjoy before dinner. And if she's playing with something at bedtime, let her bring it along (as long as it's safe for her to have, of course). Going to bed shouldn't be a penal sentence.

Eisenberg: It's a good idea to slow your child down-a half hour to an hour before bedtime-by helping her do a puzzle or other quiet activity. TV can be too exciting at this time. Note what time she typically gets sleepy and then start the routine 30 minutes before that. If you begin too early (when she can't fall asleep) or too late (when she might throw a tantrum), you'll miss the boat.

Shimm: The simplest routines are the best. For instance, give her a bath, brush her teeth, read her a book or two, and then sing her a song. And if Mom wants to read a number of books and Dad can do it in just one, it doesn't matter; the child will get used to both styles.

Mindell: My daughter is 2½ , and we always read Goodnight Moon. I save the new stories for daytime because they take a lot more cognitive energy to listen to.

Ariel Gore: If you've gone through the ritual and your child still isn't going to sleep, try a book on tape. That way, she doesn't have to have you there, but she has some entertainment to help her wind down.

How should a parent handle kids' pleas -- for water or back rubs -- to get you to come into their rooms?

Eisenberg: Set limits. Say, "We're not getting any more water tonight, and we're not having this conversation again." Many parents think they're being kind when they give in to a child's demands, but kids want to know that there are rules and limits.

Shimm: Needing water is all part of the routine; if your child's asking for it every five minutes and you can stand getting it, fine. But if your threshold is lower, you're going to have to set boundaries.