It’s true that getting a toddler to sleep is exhausting work. It takes guts; determination; and a strong will. . .
Or maybe just a solid bedtime routine. Easier said than done, but below are tips gleaned from happy, rested parents.
Bedtime routines are a predictable set of steps you follow each night before sleep. Over time, the routine prompts your child’s brain that “Hey! It’s time to go to bed soon.”
If your toddler resists bedtime, consider implementing a bedtime routine. With consistent use, it may help your child settle down and ease into slumber.
What’s all the fuss about?
To understand why your child doesn’t want to go to sleep, it may help to get into the mind of a toddler. Picture it: You’ve been busy all day, using your body to run, jump, or climb. Your imagination has been hard at work coming up with make-believe games and you’ve spent countless hours learning and absorbing information about the world. And then, you’re in the middle of playing your favorite game and someone tells you that you have to stop and go to sleep. Rude!
So, as parents, we have two situations to overcome here: 1) Calming an overstimulated toddler. 2) Transitioning to bedtime.
The good news is that a predictable bedtime routine tackles both! Here’s how:
Create a calm environment
It’s hard for anyone to feel sleepy when TV noise is blaring, you’re getting tickled or doing something active like running or jumping. Instead:
- Turn off electronics (TV, computers, phones) 2 hours before bedtime.
- Give your child a choice of a calming activity to do before bed, such as soft dough or reading books.
- Avoid sugary drinks or food before bedtime. If you give a bedtime snack, make sure you include protein.
- Dim lights in the house.
- Prepare a bath for your child and get them in their PJs.
- Prepare your child for what’s coming
Toddlers and young children thrive on routine and knowing what’s coming. Many upsets can be avoided with the use of “reminders” or “alerts” before bedtime takes place.
- 30 minutes before bedtime, tell your child they will be going to bed soon.
- Then, 10 minutes before bed, tell your child they need to finish up the activity they are doing to get ready for bed: “Angelina, you can play for 10 more minutes. Then you need to get ready for bed.”
- When playtime is up, gently tell your child it is time to put down their toys and guide them to the bathroom to brush their teeth and use the toilet.
- Toddlers love to be read to—especially at bedtime. Use this opportunity to get in some snuggle time and help your toddler settle into bed.
- Tell your toddler that they can pick 3 books for the night.
- Encourage books that are calming, about sleep, or have a rhythmic tone to them, such as Time For Bed; Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site; Llama Llama Red Pajama; A Book of Sleep; Good Night, Gorilla; Steam Train, Dream Train; Goodnight Moon.
- With older toddlers, take a moment to reflect on your day: Was it a fun day? What did you like doing the best? Did anything silly happen today? What was the weather like?
- Get in a few night time hugs and kisses.
Be one step ahead
Toddlers are notorious for finding excuses for getting out of bed: need a glass of water, gotta go to the bathroom, one more hug, gotta use the bathroom again… this can go on and on.
Build these “excuses” into your bedtime routine and go over the list as you put your child into bed:
- Have you brushed your teeth?
- Have you said goodnight to everyone?
- Do you need to go potty?
- Have you had your drink of water yet?
Routines grow with your child
As your toddler grows, their bedtime routine will evolve too. Your routine can change to include a couple songs to sing together, a lovely or stuffie to say goodnight to, or a massage or back rub. Enjoy these peaceful moments together.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).