Parents often find creating a bedtime routine for a toddler very challenging.
Organising preschool-aged children for bedtime can quickly become the most challenging time of the day for busy parents. Bedtime routines are essential so the sooner you develop one that works for you and your toddler the better.
Creating a bedtime routine your toddler enjoys
Children sleep much better when their emotional needs have been met. They want to feel close to their parents, even when sleeping.
We recommend setting a routine based around dinner, washing, and a bedtime story. Your routine should allow some flexibility so think about replacing that book with a puzzle one night. When you create a bedtime routine your toddler enjoys, try to form a structure. Remember, most routines will need to be adapted to your child’s needs at that particular moment in time.
Children are calm when their parents are calm. Try not to 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.
Here are some of our favourite tips that will help you create a winning bedtime routine.
Set a time when creating your toddler’s bedtime routine
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.
For example, my family found that 7.00 PM worked for us. We would aim to start cooking dinner at 5.00 pm, eat together, clear up, play, take a bath, and then aim to be reading a bedtime story around 6.30 PM. This allowed our children to identify a bath & then a story with sleep time. 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 the bedtime locations
Life gets in the way for many busy families, but if you can, do try to be consistent with locations.
Try to have dinner in a set location, a pre-bath game in their bedroom, wash (obviously) in the bathroom, pajamas on in mum and dad’s bedroom, cuddles & a book perhaps in their room, then 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 pajamas. 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 toddler understand association through locations. This will calm your toddler and prepare them to separate for bedtime.
Don’t rush, even if your bedtime routine is running later than usual
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.
Consistency is your friend when creating a bedtime routine for your toddler
Most households are very busy. It is 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 and make sure 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 them to the concept of time
The bedtime routine is a fantastic setting to start introducing time to your toddler. Do be careful about using night and day to associate a time to sleep. 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 fully dark until well past 9.00 PM!
Initially, your toddler will of course not understand what time means, but as they grow 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.
Clocks work well if they are very visual
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.
A short imaginative story
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 is not easy. We hope you found our tips helpful and remember that it can take time to find the perfect routine for you and your child. Your bedtime routines might not work out immediately, but keep strong and stay committed to your plans & beliefs. You will get there in the end. 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!