I'm the mom to an 18 month old, and she has been on a pretty strict sleep schedule her whole life. Only recently, with a few exceptions involving unavoidable, tempting events, have we tried to push her bedtime back. What the heck, we figured. She'll cope, right? She survived, but it certainly wasn't pretty. I quickly remembered why I relied on the real-life hacks I use to get my toddler on a consistent bedtime because, without them, things got real.
A few weeks ago, we had the classic toddler bedtime meltdown going on nearly every night of the week. One night, we were stuck in what can only be described as never-ending traffic with a screaming toddler who was so far overtired she couldn't cope. Another night, we completely flaked on bedtime and she was still sitting in her high chair an hour past bedtime eating oatmeal. Whoops! That was followed by another hour of talking to herself in her crib because we'd totally missed the bedtime window. Yet another night, my husband had her so wound up running circles around the living room and giggling her little head off, bedtime was completely derailed.
All that's to say, we tried inconsistent bedtime, intentionally and accidentally, and swiftly reverted to these helpful hacks for getting our toddler on a consistent bedtime again. Because after all, consistent bedtime means peace and quiet (and maybe some sleep!) for us parents.
I Schedule Activities Earlier
My husband and I both work at a school, so our prime time with our daughter during the week is the late afternoon. We're always much too eager to schedule playdates with friends or mini-adventures and inevitably get back to the house for dinner and bedtime when the window for those two things happening peacefully has already passed.
Note to self: schedule those activities earlier, or don't schedule them at all. Lately we've decided to visit the park within walking distance of the house, rather than activities that involve driving in rush hour, to make sure we're back home by bedtime.
I Streamline Dinner
For me, this means know what the heck you're having for dinner (or at least what you're going to feed your toddler) more than 10 minutes before it's going to happen (or before the toddler has a meltdown on the kitchen floor because they're hungry). Planning what my toddler is going to eat ahead of time means she can eat earlier and way before she turns into a whining puddle because she's so tired.
I Put Out My Toddler's Toothbrush
So many times, I sit down on the couch to take a breath after putting my daughter to sleep, only to remember I've forgot to have her brush her teeth. Other nights, my husband and I will remember she hasn't brushed her teeth when she's already in her crib, meaning bedtime gets pushed back and she gets wound up all over again. If I put out the toothbrush somewhere visible, like near her pajamas, I'm much more likely to remember.
I Set An Alarm For Pajama Time
Bedtime creeps up on our household and sometimes I'm sitting at the table still chatting away with my daughter when I realize we've already missed it. Setting an alarm on your phone that lets you know when you need to start heading toward pajamas is really helpful for keeping bedtime on track.
I Offer One More Snack Or Drink
Offer one more snack or drink before your toddler starts brushing their teeth, so that hopefully they won't start crying out for a snack when they're already in bed. We also find this helps keep our daughter asleep longer the next day. A few crackers with peanut butter, or even a scrambled egg, make for great (and sometimes special) bedtime snack.
I Adjust The Lights
When it's time for sleep, help your toddler wind down. Turn down lights, speak in a softer voice, and refrain from throwing them into a pile of pillows on the couch (the latter being my husband's favorite pre-bedtime ritual that makes me want to pull my hair out every night). Yes, it is fun and adorable but, no, it's not conducive to a consistent bedtime.
I Make Sure Bedtime Is The Same Time Every Night
Toddlers are creatures of habit, so they need bedtime to happen at the same time every night. If they find themselves in bed at the same time, night in and night out, their body clocks will start to remember what time is "bedtime."
While we don't seem like the most fun parents, we try to keep the same bedtime every night, give or take five minutes. We've made exceptions lately, trying to test whether our daughter is old enough to cope with a late night here and there, and the answer was a resounding no. Delayed bedtime, while sometimes unavoidable, leaves our daughter refusing her dinner or taking an hour to fall asleep. Her tiny body clock needs that consistent bedtime.
I Allow My Toddler To Make Some Choices
My toddler doesn't exactly like to be told what to do. I think she's pretty similar to most toddlers in that regard, honestly. Adding in a few places where your toddler can make choices about her bedtime routine can help make them feel like they're in charge (when, of course, they totally aren't).
Asking them to choose between two sets of pajamas, or asking them to choose one or two books from the shelf, even giving the option to choose how many bedtime kisses they get, gives them some perceived autonomy over their routine.
If Necessary, Bedtime Comes Earlier
If you're having problems with a whiny, overtired toddler, shift their bedtime to an earlier time in the evening. It's terrifying to think this may mean they wake up even earlier, but almost always we find it means our daughter sleeps longer.
All children are different kinds of sleepers, but if we can catch our daughter at the right point before she's too tired and starts to walk around like a tiny drunk human because she can barely stand up straight, she'll typically sleep 12 hours. There is no toddler holy grail bigger than that, dear reader.