5 Strategies for a Smoother Bedtime Routine for Your Little One
Words Megan Gordon
Whether you have a newborn baby or a busy toddler, bedtime is generally an all-consuming topic for parents. When we had a newborn I remember worrying about sleep all of the time. Now that we have a toddler, it doesn’t stress me in the same way, but many nights can still feel pretty stressful. After too long standing on the sidelines wondering what we were doing wrong, we got more proactive and deliberate about the bedtime routine. Here’s what works for us:
Talk About It
Because bedtime was always so fraught with emotion, I tended not to mention it until the last possible moment. But our son panicked the second he heard the word, so now I start bringing it up a good 90 minutes before it’s even happening. We chat about the routine and try going to the potty; I mention what I’m excited to read, and I ask Oliver which books he’s most excited about. And the end result? The shock factor is eliminated, which made things a whole lot smoother in the end.
Allow Plenty of Downtime
Some days when Oliver is at daycare, we won’t get home until almost 6 pm and by the time we get dinner on the table and he has a chance to eat, it feels like a rush to start the bedtime routine. Moving quickly from one thing to the next isn’t something toddlers generally jive with; they’d certainly prefer to be on their own timetable which, of course, isn’t always a luxury we can accommodate. But allowing a little more time to unwind and relax at home before being raced to the bathtub can help a great deal.
Consistency is Key
We hear about the importance of consistency all the time as parents and it couldn’t be truer than when talking about bedtime. Kids crave structure and instilling cues (bath time, dim lights, pajamas, books) that help them associate the time of day with bedtime is critical. A few times this month Oliver actually asked to put himself to sleep as we lined up our stories for the night, which was a great sign that he understands bedtime is near and he felt tired enough to decide to skip a few steps of the routine to get there.
Although they may be arbitrary choices, there’s nothing toddlers love more than feeling like they’re getting their own way. So giving a lot of choices is my favorite distraction tactic when it comes to getting situated for bedtime: Would you like to pick the books or should I? Do you want to brush your teeth while standing on your stool or sitting on the counter? Do you want your blue cup or green cup in bed tonight? Not only does this take Oliver’s mind off of the fact that we’re actively getting ready for bed, but it makes him feel a part of the process.
An Element of Surprise Never Hurts
While I love consistency and think it’s critical to routine, I also like to occasionally shake things up and surprise our son with a new toothbrush with a cartoon character he loves or a special cup he can keep on the counter like a big boy. Maybe a new book, or a fuzzy pair of slippers. These little things add an element of surprise and delight to the otherwise occasionally monotonous bedtime routine, ultimately making things that much smoother.