Why is it that when you are five minutes from home, your toddler will pass out in the car seat, but when you are begging for bedtime, they manage to get a second wind? Just one of the many wonders of life with toddlers, am I right? But even though life with little ones can be unpredictable, it’s nice to establish a routine in order for bedtime to go more smoothly. But when your child has gone haywire, sleepy time can be a bit difficult to manage, and you'll need to know how to get your toddler to wind down before bed. (Unfortunately, there's no magic potion.)
“Having set routines for your toddler during the day is helpful in ultimately ending the day with restful sleep,” says Texas-based Dr. Eboni Hollier, who is board-certified in both general and developmental and behavioral pediatrics, in a Romper email interview. “In general, having healthy sleep habits and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule — including age-appropriate and consistent wake and bedtimes, having a predictable bedtime routine, and ensuring that your child is receiving enough sleep — are important for all children and helps to ensure healthy child development and behavior.”
Hollier emphasizes that establishing healthy sleep habits while your child is young may also help to avoid later behavioral challenges, such as bedtime wars, as well as daytime behavioral challenges, like excessive tantrums and crankiness.
“Having a consistent, calming, and non-stimulating bedtime routine is key,” she says. “This routine helps to cue your toddler that bedtime is coming. It also allows for some together time between parents and their little one before they go to sleep.”
“Whether that’s a warm bath, a bedtime story, singing a song, getting changed into pajamas, or cuddles in bed, following the same steps every night and sticking to it can help immensely when winding down a toddler for bed,” she says, adding that she also works to include a bit of physical activity about an hour before starting a bedtime routine “to get the last of their energy out.”
Hollier says implementing a consistent bedtime routine about one hour prior to bedtime will really help toddlers wind down. This may include bath time, brushing teeth, sharing a book, or singing a song. She says it’s important to avoid activities that may be too stimulating, such as watching television, playing with electronic devices or video games, or rough housing for at least one hour prior to bedtime.
“I like to tell parents that nothing that requires batteries or a plug should be used within one hour of sleep,” Hollier says. “It helps to not have a television in your child's room, too. The bedtime environment should be quiet, dimly lit, and relaxing.”
Mylee Zschech, a child sleep consultant at Little Big Dreamers, notes that it’s also important to do a check in with your toddler, asking yourself why they are running around like crazy.
“Toddlers that are full of energy can potentially already be tired and this is their way of keeping their body awake,” she tells Romper in an email interview. “Think about your child — is this normal behavior or something different? Identifying this quickly can make or break bedtime. Being too tired at bedtime is going to mean crankiness, fighting bedtime, and taking longer to fall asleep.”
I know — as a parent, it’s tough to imagine being so tired that you would fight going to sleep. But, again — the mystery of toddlers, right?