A Great Toddler Bedtime Routine
If you don’t already have a sleepy-time routine in place for your toddler, now’s the time to create one. Here’s what to do.
The Pre-Bed Routine (30-60 Minutes)
As the evening is drawing, give your tot a few signals that bedtime is approaching:
- Dim the lights in the house.
- Do quiet play (not roughhousing).
- Turn off the TV.
- Put on white noise in the background.
- If you think your child has teething pain, ask your doctor if some medicine might help.
The “Get in Bed” Routine (20-30 Minutes)
Each family picks a slightly different bedtime routine. The key is to make your routine pleasant, loving, calming and consistent. Philadelphia researchers found that parents who started a 3-step bedtime routine (bath, massage and quiet cuddling or singing a lullaby) saw success within 2 weeks. Their children (7-36 months old) fell asleep faster…and slept longer!
And, as an extra bonus, the toddlers were less likely to call out to their parents or get out of their crib or bed.
Besides baths and massage, here are other routines many parents opt for.
When it’s time to start your routine, don’t invite resistance by asking, “Are you ready for bed?” Rather, start with an enthusiastic “Okay, all kids! Time for bed!” Make a hand sign for “bedtime” and begin a countdown before you start to sing a sleepy-time song. (Just make up a little ditty with words like, “It’s sleepy-time!” or “Time to go to bed!”—perhaps to a familiar tune like “Happy Birthday.”)
As you sing, make a simple “let’s sleep” gesture—perhaps putting your hands together like a pillow and resting your head on them.
Right before you start your bedtime, make your princess’s room perfect by:
- Dimming the lights.
- Keeping it cool (66°F-72°F is best).
- Warming the sheets (use a hot water bottle or little microwaveable wheat bag that’s removed when you tuck your munchkin in).
- Using a pleasant smell (a drop of lavender oil on the mattress or headboard is nice).
- Plugging in a small night-light.
- Putting up a dream catcher or a picture of Mommy and Daddy to “protect” your sweetie all night.
Loveys & Other Tips for Your Toddler’s Bedtime Routine
All kids enjoy saying “Good night!” to their toys. Prayers, lullabies and bedtime stories are wonderful sleep steps, too, and a pacifier or a last sip of water can also help bring a sandman. (Offer water or caffeine-free mint or chamomile tea, but avoid cavity-promoting juices or sugary drinks at bedtime. Also, limit pre-sleep breastfeeding or sucking on a bottle to about 30 minutes, because milk and formula also create cavity-producing bacteria.)
Loveys like a blankie or a teddy bear are great allies in your bedtime routine. Think of them as stepping stones to maturity and independence. These faithful friends are called transitional objects because they give kids the courage to take steps away from their mama and daddy and transition away from the family into the great big world.
If your tot doesn’t have a favorite lovey, you can pick a soft, cuddly one to carry around with you all day. Within a few weeks, your tot may start to get interested—associating the toy with your sweet cuddling—and a friendship with the lovey may begin.
Make sure your lovey has no bits or buttons attached to it that might cause choking. And make sure you have a spare, just in case the first is lost or needs to be cleaned. Never remove a lovey as punishment. Far from making kids behave better, it can trigger resentment and insecurity.
And don’t forget that old familiar sleep cue, white noise.
But, as your toddler’s mind gets more active, you may find that softer sounds just don’t work and you need a rougher white noise, like that on The Happiest Baby CD, which includes specially filtered womb or rain sound containing a mix of both shushy high-pitch and rumbly low-pitch frequencies.
White noise is an even better sleep cue than a teddy bear, because it’s easy to replace if you lose it, and it’s easier to wean later.
Other nice ideas for your bedtime routine might include:
- A warm bath (with the lights dimmed low).
- A coconut oil or cocoa butter massage (stroke the forehead from the eyebrows up to the scalp, slightly pulling your child’s eyes open with each stroke…this will make her want to close her eyes).
- Sprinkling a little “magic dust” around the room (sounds crazy, but it really works).