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Kids’ calming bedtime ideas: How to help them sleep if they’re feeling anxious

Lockdown has meant a change from the norm for little ones – here’s how to help them settle

Tara Breathnach
Wednesday 13 January 2021 08:50 GMT
<p>Finding a routine and sticking to it is one part of easing your child at bedtime</p>

Finding a routine and sticking to it is one part of easing your child at bedtime

Little children can get anxious at any time, but with all the changes that are going on in the world, and especially the restrictions that have come as a result of coronavirus, you might have noticed your kids seems a bit more stressed than usual.

Homeschooling and missing out on seeing friends and doing regular activities are big changes which could well upset children.

Lucy Shrimpton, sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Nanny, which aims to help parents of children and babies with sleep challenges, acknowledges how different things are for many children right now, and how it might be affecting them. 

“Maybe your child seems anxious or unsettled due to the change in routine,” she says, “especially if they are not able to go to school and they have to manage remote learning, being around parents all day and not seeing their friends.”

Regarding daytime, Shrimpton suggests setting aside time to engage in fun offline activities with the kids and letting them connect with their friends via Zoom or Google meet, where they could perhaps play a board game or just chat. 

“I've even seen children playing with their toys with a friend on Facetime,” she says. “It is lovely for company and connection for them.”

But how should you approach bedtime with your child if it tends to be evenings when the worry sets in? “We know a bedtime routine is great for little ones because it prepares them for sleep and keeping this at a consistent time really helps, particularly with anxious children during lockdown,” says Shrimpton.

“You will help your little one by making sure they are not watching screens for an hour before bedtime, because screen light causes a suppression in the production of sleep-inducing hormones and may hinder your little one in getting off to sleep.”  

“Eat early enough for them to digest their meal, and no sugary foods or drinks in that last hour before bedtime. A few simple routine steps that take them from the busyness of the day to the bathroom activity and then to the bedroom will make for less confusion and stimulation and a more calm and prepared little sleeper.”

She also advises parents to “be consistent". “Decide how you will settle your little one to sleep and commit to that same approach for any waking in the night. How they fall asleep at bedtime is what they rely upon for getting back to sleep between wakeful sleep cycles. So if you're going to sit beside them, be prepared to do that every time they need help getting back to sleep.”  

“Support your little one settling to sleep rather than doing it for them. When we put our children to sleep through rocking, feeding, holding or laying with them, we deprive them of the room to develop their own self-regulatory skills, which are essential.”

“That doesn't mean you have to leave your little one to it – it is not all or nothing. Instead, you can support them and work with them, paving the way for them to develop these skills. Helping them to settle to sleep is far more beneficial to your children than doing it all for them,” she explains.

Here we’ve rounded up the best products that will help you support your little one at bedtime.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Bath time

Choosing to make a bath part of the bedtime routine is something that Shrimpton advises can have lots of upsides: the kids will be clean and fresh, of course, but hopefully the warm water will soothe and relax them.

If you want some toys for while your child is bathing, we highly recommend these Kitpas bath crayons (£8 for three) which were named our best buy in our review of the best baby and toddler bath toys.

And if you’re worried about getting the bathroom messy: don’t be. Our tester said: “These crayons are specifically designed for bath times – and clean off the sides without any elbow grease required. And, unlike others on the market, they don’t get soggy and disintegrate within seconds of hitting the water. After two weeks of daily use by our three-year-old tester, these are all in one piece. We love the retro design of the crayons and covers – and are delighted that they float.”

They’re suitable for kids of three and above, but we reckon kids as old as seven could have great fun with these.


Once those PJs are on, and the daytime clothes are off,  it’s a strong signal that night time (and sleep time) is nearing.

These Petite Bateau two-piece pyjamas (£30.80, Alex and Alexa) are 100 per cent cotton meaning they are both soft and breathable.

Reviewing a similar pair in a different print for the best kids’ pyjamas of 2020, our tester said: “They’re made from Oeko-Tex-certified fleece cotton, which means they’re by far the softest and cosiest pyjamas we tried out. They’re also machine washable at 40C. We found the fit a little on the small side, so consider sizing up.”

Bedtime books

As Shrimpton advises, it’s best to avoid screens before bed if you can. So we recommend having some books on hand instead, with happy stories and gorgeous pictures.

For kids age three and above we like this poetry book, The B On Your Thumb (£9.99, Foyles) which made it into our rundown of the best kids’ poetry books.  

Our tester says: “The rhymes have been trialled at home, in school and on BBC TV and use ‘wordplay, rhythm and a dash of silliness’ to boost children’s literacy and thinking skills. Each poem teaches a specific lesson, whether it’s mastering letter sounds or explaining that words like ‘write’ and ‘right’ sound the same but are spelled differently.”

For older children of six and above, An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A-Z  (£10.58, Amazon) could be a nice option, especially during these tough, Covid-19-dominated days.

This book gives young children the words to communicate how they are feeling. It features 26 rhyming poems, arranged alphabetically to bring a host of emotions to life.

Night lights

While we wouldn’t encourage any kind of bright or flashing lights while your child sleeps, something that offers a low light might reassure them if they’re scared of being in total darkness.

This Shnuggle moonlight night light (£29.99, Jojo Maman Bebe) features in our round-up of the best baby sleep aids.  

You can use it in “parent mode” (with soft blue light) if you have a young baby who you’re giving night-time feeds to.  

But you can use it for older children too, as, our reviewer notes: “In ‘child’ mode the light gradually dims to simulate a sunset and stays on low all night to reassure the sleeper.” There is also a handy room temperature indicator on the charging dock.

Calming apps

While screens may not be the best idea directly before bed, technology in the form of an app on a parent or carer’s phone might come in handy to help your child relax and unwind.

Insight Timer (free to download, optional subscription at £55.99 a year) features meditations and calming music, and has a dedicated kids’ section where you’ll hopefully find something to soothe them if, after the bath and story, they’ve still not quite settled down.

Speaking about the app in general, our reviewer of the best mindfulness apps of 2020 said: “This is a great app with lots of content – but it can be daunting for a beginner. We recommend sticking with it, though, if you’re willing to put the time in to find out what really works for you.” You can download it for iOS here and for Android here.

If you’re homeschooling, check out our guide to be the best books to teach kids at home during lockdown

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