When you create a bedtime routine for a toddler it doesn’t have to be a headache.
Organising preschool-aged children for bedtime can easily become the most challenging time of the day for busy parents. But bedtime routines are essential, so the sooner you develop one that works for you and your family the better.
Create a bedtime routine your toddler enjoys
An enjoyable bedtime routine is one that helps to calm and relax your child as you prepare them for sleep. Keeping bedtime routines fun helps your child develop good habits at an early age. When you create a bedtime routine your toddler enjoys, your child will sleep much better because their emotional needs have been met.
Try setting your bedtime routine based around simple regular activities, like dinner, bath, and a bedtime story. Keep the routine fun and stimulating by involving your child in the preparation for bedtime. Don’t rush your child’s bedtime routine, even if you are exhausted. If you are running slightly later than normal, try to remember that going to bed late once in a while is absolutely fine.
Read on for some tips that will help you create a winning bedtime routine for you and your family.
Set a time and stick to it
Children like structure because it makes them feel safe and comfortable. This is a human need. Setting a fixed time for bedtime each night can be a very welcome pattern for your child. It helps them identify key milestones.
Lets’ say you have a pre-school aged child and aim for 7.00 pm (lights off and bedtime). If you work back from that time, it would mean preparing dinner around 4.30 pm to 5.00 pm, eating together, clearing up, a little playtime, a bath, and then a bedtime story for around 6.30 PM.
This type of routine allows children to identify a structure that revolves around a fixed time for bedtime. Every family structure is different so you need to put a time schedule in place that works for you and your children.
Be consistent with your locations
Life gets in the way for many busy families, but if you can be consistent with your locations.
Have dinner in a regular set location, a pre-bath game in their bedroom, a bath in the bathroom (obviously), and do pyjamas in their bedroom. You can give lots of cuddles and read a book in their room, then off to the bathroom for teeth and into bed for lights off.
Associating locations with different key bedtime events helps children develop their transitioning skills.
You will be surprised at how quickly your little person starts to run off to their bedroom to get their own pyjamas. Or darts off into their room to pick out a story for you to read to them before bedtime.
Creating a bedtime routine for your toddler using consistent locations for different events will help your child understand association through locations. This will prepare them to separate for bedtime.
Don’t rush when creating your toddler’s bedtime routine
Young children need help in understanding transitions.
Moving from a very busy action-packed day to a much calmer dinner, bath, and bedtime routine can be very difficult. Learn how long your bedtime routine takes. It might be one full hour from eating to lights out so try to think about how you can help your toddler start to relax as you move through that hour.
Try not to rush a bedtime routine simply because you were running later than normal. Your child will pick up on this pace and may become unsettled. This can result in further delays in getting them off peacefully to sleep.
Most households are very busy. It’s very common for both parents to work stressful jobs with long hours. If you are taking it in turns to put your children to bed make sure you communicate.
Talk to your partner so you are both well versed in the bedtime routine.
All your good work will quickly become undone if you leave your partner to take care of bedtime, only to arrive home from work to find them both watching Pepper Pig still in their day clothes 30 minutes after bedtime!
Introduce the concept of time
The bedtime routine is a fantastic setting to start introducing time to your toddler.
If you have blackout blinds then you can safely discuss night and day with them, but remember, in those summer months without blackout blinds, or shutters, it may not get dark until well past 9.00 PM!
Initially, your toddler will not understand what time means, but as they develop and learn time will start to make sense to them.
Using time helps your toddler to associate actions with the bedtime routine.
Dim the lights
You’d be amazed at how many people forget the importance of dimming the lights in a child’s room when preparing their children for bed.
It is a proven medical fact that bright light can hinder a child’s desire to sleep.
If it emits a blue (ish) tinted light (so think tablets, mobile phones, PC screens, TV’s) then it should be avoided well in advance of any bedtime routine. Make sure you remove any unhelpful electronics and dim those lights to better prepare your child for sleep.
Lots of parents find great success in using visual clocks (think big and little arms on a clock that can be moved) as part of a bedtime routine.
Having your child physically move the clock hands round to ‘bedtime’ can help trigger the association that the day is over and make their transition into bed much easier.
Try imaginative story telling
How many times have you put your head to the pillow only to feel yourself being wide awake? Children, just like adults, can get all the way into bed only to find themselves unable to close their eyes and drift off to sleep.
A good technique to use if your child is in bed and struggling to get themselves off to sleep is to build a short story together around their favorite character/s. Encourage your child to help form a story with you and you might be pleasantly surprised by just how creative and humorous your toddler can be as their imagination grows.
Children love nothing better than using their imaginations so when you encounter difficult sleep moments try creating that joint story.
Creating a bedtime routine for your toddler takes time and patience but you will get there. Your bedtime routines might not work out immediately, but keep strong and stay committed to your plans & beliefs. There is no satisfaction quite like nailing the perfect ‘no drama’ dinner, bath, story bedtime routine for the first time.
If you do discover that your child is not coping with sleep time and you feel there are some issues that you need professional support with, you will want to discuss this with a pediatrician. You are never alone so remember to always reach out for support if things become overwhelming for you, or your child.
You can also contact sleep consultants for support. Be sure to seek guidance from your pediatrician if you need it and good luck!