How to create a bedtime routine for toddlers so you can have struggle free evenings and end the bedtime tears.
Do your children give you a hard time around bedtime? My kids used to as well, so the things I’m going to share with you are real life advice from a mom of 3. Well the baby not a toddler yet, but I have dealt with 2 toddlers and bedtime before.
Now that my children are 7 and 5, bedtime looks a lot different, easier even.
To get to point quickly, successful bedtimes start with solid routines, positive attitudes and calm environments. That’s all well and good, but how do you create a routine, how do you maintain a positive attitude when the kids aren’t listening, and how the heck do we get kids to calm down when the mention of bedtime seems to send them into hyper active mode?
I have all the answers for you. Remember that I’m a mom who’s been there, done that, and not a professional sleeping coach so some strategies that worked for me, may not work for you. However, it can’t hurt to try my methods since they HAVE worked in the past.
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Why Is It Important To Create A Bedtime Routine For Toddlers?
You might be thinking that a routine for toddler bedtime might not be necessary. However, routine can trigger the body to knowing what comes next, and in a bedtime routine we want to trigger sleep.
Think about workout routines for adults. Normally you wouldn’t just start working out in the middle of the work day without any warning to your body that you’re going to get active. You’ll most likely get dressed in workout clothes, drink water, maybe take a pre workout supplement, do some stretching and then get into the zone to workout.
You’re preparing your body for your workout so that you have a more successful session. You might even have a cool down routine post workout to tell your body that this is now over and it can start to relax.
Bedtime routines for toddlers are just like workout routines for adults. These small tasks such as getting into pj’s, brushing teeth and reading a bedtime story are all triggers that tell the body that sleep is near. Without a routine, the body doesn’t get the signals and your child may have a more difficult time calming down for sleep.
How To Plan Out A Bedtime Routine
Before you can successfully create a bedtime routine, you have to consider some factors that may affect the way the routine will go.
- How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?
Does your child still nap during the day or do they stay awake until bedtime?
- What Time Should Your Child Go To Bed?
You can figure out what time you need to put your child to bed based on the time they need to wake up in the morning.
- Decide Where The Child Will Be Going To Sleep
Will your child be sleeping in their own bed, your bed or a family bed? Establishing a sleep location can help set the bedtime standard by keeping consistency in the routine.
- When Does Dinner End?
Making sure that dinner time and bedtime are far enough apart is important too. Dinners that are too close to bed can cause wakefulness in a child.
Once you have those things established, it is time to write out your routine. If your routine is written down on paper, or even in chart form, you are more likely to stick to the structure that you have set out.
Be sure to include everything from dinner time to the moment they fall asleep so that the whole evening can run like clockwork as much as possible.
If you are having trouble figuring out what time you should put the child to bed, working backwards may help.
Take a look at the amount of time it could take to complete all of the tasks on your written list and work backwards from the ideal time you would like your kids to fall asleep.
Dinner is at 6 pm which means that bedtime should start around 730 at the earliest. Bedtime will include winding down with 15 minutes of independent play without screens followed by a toy cleanup. Then when everything is clean we will want to have a quick bath for 15 minutes. After bath it will be around 8 00. At 8 we will brush teeth and climb into bed for story time. Stories will take 10 minutes and then a 5 minute cuddle after that. Bedtime routine should end at 830.
However you want to structure the routine is up to you, this is just an example of what you might want your routine to look like timing-wise. Your child may need to be asleep by 8 instead of 8:30 so work out the best routine to accommodate that timeline.
See also: Brilliant Sleep Clocks For Toddlers
Our Toddler Bedtime Routine
To help you further with how to make a bedtime routine for your toddler, here is how our typical evening goes for my 2 boys. This routine started when my oldest child was just 2, and is still the same today at age 7.
My children thrive on routines so much so that we use charts for everything in our lives including a getting ready for school chart, an after school chart, and even a snack choice chart for bedtime snacks! My fridge is full of charts which we use daily.
Our bedtime routine starts an hour and a half after dinner time. We try to eat around 6pm, if we go later we still keep bedtime the same. We have a no screen time after dinner policy in our home which is recommended by our pediatrician. The kids like to run around outside and get wild and crazy until bedtime routine begins.
So at 7:30 it all starts and at 830 it ends.
- Kids stop playing and hop into the bath or have a shower. They shower or bath separately so this can take up to 30 minutes to get done.
- After washing up, we have bedtime snacks that the children choose from their bedtime snack chart. (menu includes cheese and crackers, a bowl of cereal, yogurt and berries, waffles and peanut butter or eggs done up different ways)
- After bedtime snack, it’s time to brush those teeth. Teeth brushing is supervised and done together to ensure it gets done properly, even at age 7.
- After brushing their teeth the children grab their nighttime water bottles and fill them with fresh water.
- Then it’s time to read a bedtime story or read an educational book about space, the human body or something else. My kids are little scientists so they love to learn.
- After story, it’s lights out and snuggles with teddy bears.
- I also like to sing songs during snuggle time like twinkle twinkle little start and baa baa black sheep for a few minutes.
- After the snuggles, it’s time to leave the bedroom whether they are asleep or not. By now they are calm enough to fall asleep on their own and no shenanigans will go on. I notice shenanigans do happen when I allow screen time after dinner though, so be mindful of when their last screen time is before bed.
More Tips For Bedtime Success
Limit Screen Time
Setting boundaries for screen time can drastically improve bedtime routine success. It is not recommended for kids to fall asleep watching tv or playing on other devices.
Set a rule for no screen time at least 2 hours before bedtime. This could possibly mean that the whole family has to be screen-free – think phone, iPad, game boy, tv before bedtime. This works out great if you like to play family games or enjoy having a fire in the backyard. These are extra special chances to create memories.
Have Calm Down Time
Just as adults, kids cannot go from wild to calm in 60 seconds. Give them time to wind down from playtime, especially if they were playing hard. Determine which activities are calming for your child.
For some kids, bath time can be more energizing than calming and placing the bath part of the evening should be done closer to the start of the routine rather than the end.
In this case, you can have independent playtime in place of the bath. You can give a nice relaxing massage using coconut oil or your favorite body lotion. Perhaps your child loves to create comic books, allow them to draw and use their imaginations at this time. Whatever activity you choose, make it calm and relaxing.
PS. Sometimes mom needs calm downtime too, read about how to keep you cool when your child is pushing your buttons.
Start Routine Before They Hit Overtired – Avoid Routine When Under-Tired
Once you have an overtired child, bedtime will not be easy, no matter what kind of routine you have in place.
Kids that stay up later can hit the overtired stage fairly quickly and can be very tough to calm back down and you may have a tantrum to deal with during the calm-down time. If your toddler still takes naps during the day, make sure that their naps are not too early in the day so that there is too much time between nap and bedtime. If there is too much of a gap between nap and bedtime, try moving bedtime to an earlier time.
On the other hand, also make sure your child is not under tired. Having an under-tired child will make bedtime a complete nightmare. Your toddler needs to be tired enough to go to sleep so if the nap was late, bedtime will need to be a little bit later as well.
Set Your Child Up For Bedtime Throughout The Day
This kind of goes along with the under tired portion but let me explain a little bit more about setting your child up for sleep throughout the day. Your child should be tired enough to go to sleep. If your little one hasn’t had enough sunlight and exercise throughout the daytime hours, they will most likely have a difficult time during bedtime. Healthy eating habits and proper naps are also really important during the day and will help achieve a better sleep at night.
Your child will have a much easier time getting to sleep if they have had a lot of healthy ways to get out their energy throughout the day. If you cannot go outside, I suggest getting a small trampoline for inside the home at the very least. Do lots of jumping jacks and run in the spot to get those wiggles out. There are programs like “Go Noodle” which is free that can also help motivate a child to get moving. This is so important for bedtime to go smoother.
See also: Dialing Back On Kids Screen Time
Items That Helped Me With Toddler Bedtime Routine
Chalkboard Magnet: We use a chalkboard “chore” chart to write out the bedtime routine, especially when we were still figuring it out. Once we got it down pat, I printed out a paper copy and laminated it for the fridge and then designated the chore chart for actual chores.
Snuggly Teddy Bear: We got our bears at a place called Build-A-Bear where they sell many stuffed animals and my children both chose bears when they were 18 months old. I’m so excited to get my third child a bear from there too when the time comes! They also have very nice teddy bears on Amazon.
Fun Toothbrushes: To make brushing teeth more exciting, I like to get the children fun toothbrushes with their favorite characters and exciting lights on them. We get some fun flavored toothpaste as well and then let the kids decide which flavor they want that night. Did I mention that giving choices can help prevent meltdowns? If not, then hear me now…provide choices.
Sleep Clock: A toddler sleep clock can help your child see that it is clearly bedtime and it is time to stay in bed, not wander the house. Here is my roundup of the best toddler sleep clocks to help you choose. This sleep clock also acts as a nightlight to help keep the room not so dark and scary for your little one.
White Noise Machine: White noise isn’t just for babies. Toddlers love white noise to help them drift off into a deep sleep. If you don’t have a white noise machine yet, I highly suggest purchasing one for each bedroom to help everyone in your home sleep better.
Awesome Bedding: Ok it’s not a must-have bedtime item for toddlers but it’s always fun to have great bedding which can make you more excited for bedtime. Toddlers tend to love certain cartoons so if they have a favorite get it for the bedding set! My boys love spiderman and Blippi so we go the spiderman sets for their beds.
Bedtime Routine For Toddlers
Do you think you have the tools needed to make your very own bedtime routine for toddlers? I hope so! I mean, I am not a professional sleep consultant, I am just a momma who has been there, done that. If these tips don’t work out for you, I would suggest going to see your pediatrician to see if they have any more suggestions for you.
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“GENTLE PARENTING IS A LIFESTYLE THAT EMBRACES BOTH YOUR PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL BEHAVIOR, NOT ONLY TOWARDS YOUR CHILDREN, BUT TO YOURSELF TOO“— SARA HOCKWELL-SMITH