To adults, the word routine sounds a bit boring. We get tired of doing the same thing, day in and day out. But your tot doesn’t feel that way. Toddlers love routines! And making your tyke’s bedtime routine as predictable as the sunset will be your best tool for boosting their sleep. Little routines fill your toddler with the feeling of being smart and loved. And their happiness—and better behavior—will make you feel like a great parent, too!
Every family must pick a bedtime routine that’s right for them…so not all routines are alike! The key is to make your routine pleasant, loving, calming, and consistent. If you’re not sure where to start, one study suggested that parents who started a three-step bedtime routine (bath, massage, and quiet cuddling or singing a lullaby) saw success within two weeks, with their kids falling asleep faster and sleeping longer than those who did not have a routine. And, as an extra bonus, their toddlers were less likely to call out to their parents or get out of their crib or bed.
Here are some more tips to make your bedtime routine go smoothly.
Start your bedtime routine…during the day.
One of the best ways to get past sleep speed bumps is to work on bedtime skills—all day long. Set your toddler up for bedtime success during the day by making sure she gets lots of sunlight, fresh air, and outdoor play. Ensure that she’s eating healthy and is napping well. In addition, you’ll want to build a good relationship during the day, so your child naturally wants to cooperate at night.
Announce bedtime…don’t ask.
When it’s time to start your routine, don’t invite push-back by asking, “Are you ready for bed?” Rather, start with an excited “Alright, it’s time for bed!” You could make a hand sign for “bedtime,” begin a countdown, or start to sing a sleepy-time song (this could be a made-up ditty or you could use an actual song) that tells everyone it’s time to sleep.
Get the room ready.
Right before you start your bedtime routine, make your tot’s room perfect. Dim the lights and make sure the temperature is cool (19°F-22°F is best). You could dab lavender oil on the mattress or headboard to release a pleasant, relaxing smell. For frightened tots, put up a dream catcher or a photo of Mummy or Daddy to “protect” your lovebug all night long.
Use sleep cues.
As the evening is drawing near, give your child a few signals that bedtime is approaching 30 to 60 minutes ahead of time. Lower the lights in the house. Do quiet play (not roughhousing). Turn off the TV and put away other devices. Play white noise in the background. Reading together, a warm bath, or perhaps a massage can be relaxing cues that bedtime is drawing near.
Create and read a beddy-bye book.
One tradition that many parents love is reading a Beddy-Bye Book: a homemade book with photos to illustrate a typical day in your tyke’s life, including all the steps of the bedtime routine. Reading this together helps your child know what’s expected when it’s time to hit the hay.
Make bedtime predictable.
Then, after putting on PJs, washing up, and brushing teeth, it is helpful to organize the last 15 minutes into a very predictable routine: snuggle together in bed (white noise on), read a few stories, do some bedtime sweet talk (a review of somethings the child is grateful for from the day just passed and what their looking forward to the next day). Finally, a little lullaby and then “good night, my sweet little sleepy head.”