5 Things to Start Doing Now for a Battle-free Bedtime with Your Toddler

Meltdowns. Tears. Tantrums. Stalling.

If you have a toddler at home, you have undoubtedly encountered all or most of the above when bedtime approaches. While you can rest assured that this behavior is completely developmentally normal and appropriate, there are some fool-proof ways to avoid unnecessary stress! Here are my top 5 things to start doing right now with your toddler. 

1. Give Them Fair Warning ⚠️ 

It’s a good idea to start prepping your child for bedtime about 30 minutes to an hour before you begin heading to the bedroom. Provide them with a list of 2-3 activities that will happen next. “First, we’ll have some dinner, next we’ll do a puzzle and then we’ll head upstairs for our bath.” Given your child’s language ability, you can even begin to have them repeat the steps back to you so that you can be sure they’ve understood. Otherwise, you can introduce a timer to signal how much screen time or quiet time is left for the night. Either way, your child will benefit from a cue that bedtime is coming. While it may not please them on night 1, toddlers are creatures of habit and will learn this as their new normal if you remain consistent. 

2. Give Them a Predictable Bedtime Routine ✔️ 

If you want to set your child up for success you should begin implementing a bedtime routine as soon as possible! Yup, even newborns can benefit from rhythmic patterns and behaviors that can induce sleepiness. The best bedtime routines are swift and take no longer than 30 minutes from beginning to end. The activities may vary from family to family, but some popular ideas include bath, brushing teeth, PJs, book, song, sound machine. Complete the tasks of your choice in the same order, each night, at approximately the same time. It’s a wonderful idea to even include a tagline or phrase of your choice, to set the tone that the night is done. “Sleep tight. Night, night. Goodnight, ____.” Whatever resonates with you and your little one.

Pro-tip: Using a visual checklist or chart can keep your kiddo even more engaged in the process! Have them create checks with a dry-erase marker or participate using their favorite stickers to show completion of each step of their routine.  Amazon sells an amazing customizable chore chart that includes magnets for some common bedtime activities!

3. Give them choices. 👍🏻

During the toddler stage, most children begin to assert their independence and need to sense that they have some control.  Before giving your tot the opportunity to say “no” or to refuse a direct request, give them a choice.  Set aside two books, two pairs of pajamas, two pairs of socks, two outfits for the following day and ask for their help in making some really important decisions!  Watch as your tot races to be the boss and completes their routine with no hesitations.  Allow them to choose the song or songs you sing before bed, but put a limit on how many there will be and stick to it.  If protests do occur, divert their attention to a choice for tomorrow – “Tomorrow, do you want pancakes or eggs for breakfast? Would you like to go to the park or library after school?” All the while, keeping in mind that the routine should take no longer than 30 minutes and any efforts to stall should be shut down quickly.

4. Talk About It 💬 

We, as parents, tend to over- and sometimes underestimate our children. While you may think your child understands or knows what is expected of them overnight, it is in your best interest to hold a family meeting and to discuss it with them. Explicitly. Introduce some sleep rules that include boundaries as to what he or she can and cannot do once they have completed their routine (I.e get out of bed, get a drink, have another song, play with toys, etc.). You may even choose to display the “rules” somewhere in their bedroom using emojis, magazine cutouts, or drawings. But do keep your child involved in the discussion and repeatedly review so that you are 100% confident that the message has been relayed. Believe it or not, children as young as 2 are capable of understanding and acting out two-part directions. So keep it simple and direct. 

Pro-tip: For older children who are in toddler beds, establish a plan for them to carry out if they should wake up in the middle of the night.  For example, you might say “If you wake during the night you can do these three things – ” and give them some options.  These might include hugging a favorite lovey, counting to 20, saying a practiced phrase, closing their eyes or calling your name if you wish.  If their door remains open, you may even allow them to come camp out on your bedroom floor if they are frightened. Whatever you decide as a family should be clearly communicated and rehearsed during the day so that your tot feels well prepared for any sleep disturbance.  Plus, little children love to role play!

5. Praise Them for Following Through 👏🏻

Who doesn’t love a compliment? When you see that your little one is developing healthy sleep habits and accepting their new rules and responsibilities, tell them! Be loud and proud about their progress. Brag to their grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and babysitters about how grown they are becoming (in front of them) so that they can feel accomplished and proud, too.  If your little one is more bashful and prefers extrinsic rewards, take them out for ice cream or to the dollar store for a special treat.  Give them a few minutes of additional screen time or put a quarter in their piggy bank. Plan a special movie night, bake their favorite cake or try a new craft. However you do it, celebrate their success (and yours)! 

Before you know it, bedtime will become a true bonding experience and one of your favorite parts of the day! 

About the Blogger

I’m Diane Repetz, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Little Sleep Solutions LLC. Just this past year, I sought the help of a sleep coach to assist with my own 3 year old and her bedtime blow ups.  After taking her advice, my little girl’s behavior and sleep was transformed and I was instantly intrigued by the field of sleep training. Through the Center for Pediatric Sleep Management, I myself, studied to become a consultant and now have the pleasure of helping families who seek to improve their own infant or toddler’s sleep. For more information on my services as a consultant or on becoming a consultant yourself, click below to schedule a FREE 15 minute discovery call.

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