Stress-free toddler bedtimes – now that’s the dream! But, it really can be a reality too!
I often hear parents tell me that bedtimes are the hardest part of the day. Everyone is tired, some parents might have other jobs to do which they rely on doing once their toddler is asleep, and sometimes we just crave our own space after a long day with our wonderful – yet sometimes challenging – children!
With that in mind, I have brought together all of my experience on how to create a stress-free toddler bedtime. I'll be sharing my top tips on how to get a toddler to sleep, and how to establish a stress-free toddler bedtime routine.
How to get a toddler to sleep with a stress-free toddler bedtime routine
These are my top tips for how to establish a stress-free toddler bedtime every night, and how to get a toddler to sleep with minimal fuss.
1. Give a five-minute warning
Now nobody likes to be pulled away from what they're doing without any kind of warning – and for children this is especially true.
If you give your child a warning letting them know that in five minutes it’s time for a bath or it's bedtime, you'll get a lot less resistance when those five minutes are up. You can practice this during the day also so that they know the boundary around a task is in place – for example, give a five minute warning when they need to move on to the next task such as turning off the television or coming for their meal.
2. Create a regular bedtime routine
Children thrive on a bedtime routine and this set order of activities help the body and brain transition more easily from day to night. A toddler bedtime routine also creates a sense of calm expectation that allows sleep to come more easily. A snack or milk then bath time, followed by a book and bed is a routine I always suggest to the families I work with. This is because if offered consistently, then this will allow your child to feel safe and secure in the lead up to bedtime, resulting in less tears or protest.
The cues in your toddler bedtime routine will give your child a sense of security as they know what follows; this will make your toddler feel some autonomy and control around their bedtime.
3. Use a timer
A timer is a great way to help your kids feel like they have more control over the situation and defuse the power struggle. After all, it's not you who are saying it's time to put the toys away or get out of the bath – it's the timer. A visual sand timer works especially well. A sticker chart or checklist of the bedtime steps can work really well as it always put a positive slant on things: “it’s time to put your next sticker on the chart and have a story” is far more appealing than “bath time is up” and the fun stops.
4. Set a story limit-and stick to it
"Just one more, Mummy!"
Who else has caved in to that request?
The problem with allowing further book requests at this point is that your children will expect you to do it every time. On the nights when you don't give in, they won't understand why you're not playing according to the established pattern – this can make your toddler feel confused and upset, and more likely to push other boundaries often becoming tearful. Stick to one or two books maximum and have that established within the bedtime routine.
5. Use a training clock.
I love a training clock! It is such a handy tool to have up our sleeve to support our toddler’s sleep. When used correctly it can encourage a calm and peaceful bedtime, with your toddler knowing exactly what is expected from them at bedtime.
Your child will associate their clock with bedtime and wake up time and at the end of the bedtime routine the clock will go to sleep (change colour) which will indicate to your child that it is time for them to go to bed. If used with instant rewards in the morning, they will soon come to learn that the clock is their tool to help them know when to go sleep and when it is an appropriate time to wake up in the morning, with an instant reward offered upon waking when they have followed the rules of the clock. This reward could be stickers or small toys, with the aim to give an incentive in the early days whilst understanding the rules of the clock.
I suggest that you choose a training clock which comes with a dim red or orange light through the night so that children who are fearful of the dark can use this to make them feel safe. It is also good to avoid cool spectrum colours (like blue, green and white colours) which can affect our melatonin (our hormone that aids sleep).
With all the above guidance and consistency in your approach you will see less protest and upset around the bedtime.
If you would like more personalised support to improve your toddlers sleep then head over to my page at Bloss where you can book an initial call with me to discuss your sleep difficulties.
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