If you're like me, people probably told you to the whole sleep thing would become easier once your child was out of the infant stage. There are few things worse than sleep deprivation and the first few month's of your newborn's life are going to offer limited opportunities to rest. But just because your kid hits the magical beginning phases of toddler-hood (usually between 18 months and 2 years old), that doesn't mean you'll go right back to having a normal sleep schedule. So you might be in the market for bedtime routines for toddlers that actually work.
The tricky thing about children is that no two are the same, even if you have twins. Every child has their own rhythm, disposition, and quirks. The methods your best friend swears by to get her toddler to easily sleep through the night work for her, but may not have the same results for you. It can be easy to get discouraged when all your other friends with kids rave about how quickly they can get their little one into bed and asleep.
Thankfully, it's not a competition. You can try out various options to find which one works best for you and your family. So check out some of these bedtime routines for toddlers that can actually work.
1. Have A Full Tummy
Do you ever wake up with a case of the midnight munchies? Luckily for you, you can hop up and get yourself something to eat with ease. Your toddler, however, can't. That's why the experts at What To Expect When You're Expecting: The Toddler Years recommended that you, "give your toddler a little bite to tide him through the night," ideally a good carb-protein combo.
2. Repeat, Repeat, & Repeat
Just like adults, children learn through repetition. So before you toss out your current routine to try out a new one, maybe keeping some structure will help your toddler adjust to bedtime more easily. According to Parents, "your child's body clock will adjust much more quickly to the routine if the bedtime routine follows a natural and consistent pattern."
3. Go Gadget-Free
Though TV or tablet time might seem like a good way to keep your kids occupied, it doesn't help prepare them for bedtime. Kim West, a family therapist who specializes in sleep issues, told Parenting, "your child will need to start the process of winding down his body and brain; no screen time for at least an hour before bedtime."
4. Bump It Back
Even if your child is going to bed at a reasonable hour, you might want to consider starting earlier with your routine to avoid a stressful situation. Jennifer Waldburger, a sleep researcher, told Family Share that, "once a child is overtired, a stress hormone called cortisol is released which makes it hard to settle in and causes a child to wake up more often and too early." Waldburger suggested, "put your child to bed 30 minutes earlier than their normal bedtime."
5. Talk About It
Isn't it easier to relax when you know what to expect? The same goes for your child. Though they might be young, your toddler can still appreciate a little pre-bedtime explanation. Author and sleep expert Jodi Mindell told Baby Center that talking to your toddler about their bedtime routine works wonders. "Your toddler will be more relaxed if he knows what's coming next," she said. "The more relaxed he is, the more likely he'll go to bed easily and fall asleep quickly."
6. Be Flexible
Sometimes when your toddler is putting up a fight before bedtime, it has less to do with sleep and more to do with them working out some emotional issues they can't articulate yet. That's why it's important that parents are tuned in to their child's needs and know when to allow some wiggle room. A study published in The Journal of Family Psychology found that mindfulness and flexibility matter in a toddler's bedtime routine. According to the research, "the emotional quality of [the parent's] practices will bear importantly on a child's ability to settle into sleep and to regulate their sleep behavior throughout the night."
7. Set The Mood
You know what a good date and my toddler's bedtime routine have in common? If I want my night to go well, I'll need to dim the lights, put on some mellow music, and talk in a soft voice. It might sound silly, but my son has learned that when the lights turn down and the TV goes off, it signals bedtime is right around the corner.
8. Run A Bath
Though people are still divided on whether or not warm milk makes for a sleepy child, it seems that a warm bath has a very real affect on your toddler's bedtime routine. According to What To Expect When You're Expecting: The Toddler Years, the warm water, soothing scents, and skin contact from a post-bath lotion massage are all elements that will calm your toddler down for bed.
9. Keep It Short & Sweet
For me, I love my son's bedtime because it's an opportunity for quality time and snuggles that my rambunctious boy rarely doles out in the daytime. But it turns out that extending the routine could be backfiring. According to Parents, you should, "say 'goodnight' and try not to come back if your child calls because, if you keep coming back, you'll teach your child that, 'if I call to Mommy, she'll come back.'"
10. Let Them Have A Say
Everyone knows that the Terrible Twos occur mostly because your child is figuring out how to be independent. The same goes for bedtime. West told Parenting that giving your toddler some control — like picking which bedtime book to read or selecting their pajamas — will make even the fussiest tot more relaxed for bedtime.
11. Dedicate Some Time For Fun
If your child tends to be on the more energetic side, don't fight it. I've found that if I tell my son, "OK. After dinner, you have until the timer goes off to run and jump and dance as much as you want," that it really helps him let off some steam and it tires him out, too. Having an absolute start and stop time that we consistently do every night makes all the difference.