How doll play can establish a good bedtime routine for your toddler

baby crib

by Stephanie Anthony |

This week celebrates World Sleep Day on the 18th March, and the UK’s number one nurturing doll brand, Baby Annabell has teamed up with sleep expert Lucy Wolfe to share her advice on how playing with dolls can help promote a good sleep routine.

Every parent has the same worry when it comes to beginning night time routines with their little one. Thoughts of ‘is tonight finally the night they sleep through?’ and ‘what time is best to put them down?’ are just some of the thoughts most parents share on a daily basis.

Whether it’s first time parents or parents going through it for the second or third time, we know each child is individual and responds differently, but something that we can do as our baby grows into a toddler is help to put a bedtime routine into practice.

The importance of a good bedtime routine

Lucy adds, “Parents often report significant challenges with bedtime for their young children. Typical issues may be represented by resistance to sleep, taking a long time for your child to achieve sleep at bedtime, routine call backs, demands and requests for drinks, food and parental engagement; all may result in a frustrating and tiring end to what already has been a long day."

These quintessential bedtime battles impact how we complete the day with our children, sometimes leaving both parent and child dissatisfied and disconnected at a time in the day when contentment and connection are crucial to how your child experiences sleep.

Learning through play

We know that our children learn through play - and we can help instil positive emotions, feelings and attitudes about bedtime and sleep by helping our children learn, understand and become invested in what I describe as ‘sleep happiness’ by role play with dolls.

We can nourish our children’s minds and imagination through play; simultaneously nurturing their bedtime and associations with sleep to help eliminate resistance, reluctance and negativity, together with the stand offs, the curtain calls and the heroic efforts that parents report to help them get to sleep.

Changing routines: no more nap time

Sleep can often become more challenging for some families within the second year of life and many parents will have routinely struggled from early on, but scope to improve the sleep dynamics in your home remains.  Developmentally your child has gone from needing multiple naps to just one; and in the next 6-12 months most children by aged 3 will no longer biologically require day time sleep and their entire sleep need will be filled overnight. Your child’s need for quality, consolidated sleep phases to support optimum health, development and wellbeing, has emerged fully.

Some issues may arise for parents when a nap is still needed but the length of the nap makes bedtime a challenge and therefore in this time frame-there is a lot of adjusting and refining of nap lengths and bed timing to ensure that you are addressing your child’s sleep when they are ‘sleep ready’ as opposed to over-tired, or not tired enough; both of which may result in sleep resistance.

Encouraging parenting role play with dolls

By encouraging your child to select their own doll, this promotes your child to look after and love their chosen doll. From feeding to burping, changing her clothes, learning to calm her when she cries, to being confident to rock her to sleep in arms, is a gorgeous way of enhancing the caring and nurturing aspects of our children’s being; fostering creativity, imagination and an assured sense of self and the world.

In terms of using doll play to support bedtime, adopting a simple play idea to demonstrate the bedtime process can further help to foster a positive sleep practise within your home. I firstly encourage role play that echoes the process that your child will also experience at bedtime. Encourage your child to play with their doll in their bedroom - support your child in practicing changing it into her nightwear that includes pyjamas and a sleeping bag and placing her in her Sweet Dreams Crib that will gently rock, whilst playing soothing music. Show how to “tuck in” and accompany your child in supporting their doll in getting to sleep. Together, cultivate gentle, soothing words and phrases that you will also use with your child during their bedtime routine.

This dynamic will help to create familiarity to changes that you may be making, and by modelling and tracking your child’s play with language helps to ingrain deeper understanding of your sleep expectations and their attachment to you, creating confidence and security to ultimately become a contented sleeper themselves.

Parallel play

When you are preparing your child for sleep at bedtime, and I propose that the entire bedtime routine is carried out in the dimly lit bedroom - encourage a parallel play aspect where you help your child get ready for bed whilst your child helps their doll get ready for bed. Use accessories like pyjamas and a sleeping bag or duvet together with bottle and the dummy and say goodnight to their baby in her crib, simulating the steps and helping absorb your child into nurturing their own sleep experience.

These nourishing activities, provided in a sleep friendly context, serve to enhance the parent–child relationship and stimulate production of the sleep hormone melatonin, together with the relaxing chemical oxytocin, that all make it easier, more congruent and calm for your child  to willingly and happily achieve and maintain their sleep. Effective bedtime routines are ideally 20-30 minutes in duration (this is additional to bath time). The focus is ideally logical and linear, in that it leads to getting into bed and saying goodnight.

A sleep-friendly environment

Go into the bedroom, dim the lights, close the curtains, and begin to help your child into their nightwear in the space that you created. To optimise co-operation, encourage your child to also get their doll ready for bed too and into her bed.

  1. Engage in lots of physical and eye contact - read with your child, sing songs with your child, chat with them, ask them to name three things that they loved today and two things that they are looking forward to tomorrow.

  2. Complete your bedtime routine so it is obvious when it is ending - tucking their doll in and saying goodnight may be a good way to define the beginning of the end and then you can offer your bedtime kiss, and cuddle before the lamp goes out.

As with most changes that parents make, it takes time for the benefits to emerge. Often the process will involve reviewing bed timing to ensure your child is tired enough to actually go to sleep or refining what you do during your bedtime routine to reduce stalling; all of which will require patience on your part. As you continue on your sleep journey, be kind to yourself, it can be a challenge, but there is always opportunity, to together, nourish your child’s sleep tendencies.”

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