Two years into my business, and I found that nearly half of my clients are toddlers!! At one point in the last year, I had ONLY toddler kiddos which was surprising to me…And it got me wondering, "Why?"
When I sat down to think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. There is SO much information out there on how to help babies/infants, but toddlers are a different entity all together and teaching a 3 year old to stay in their bed and room is different than teaching a baby how to self settle in their crib. There just isn't as much information easily accessible to help families of toddlers.
Starting at the beginning, let's walk through an awesome toddler bedtime routine and the common challenges you may face.
Toddler Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine is the foundation of good sleep. As humans, we feel secure and thrive off predictability and a routine offers a person of any age just that.
A bedtime routine should be the same every night regardless of who does the routine and it won’t change all that much over time. A toddler routine will take about 20-30 minutes – long enough to establish a meaningful part of bedtime but not too long where the importance of it is lost.
Below are the components of a solid toddler bedtime routine:
* Bedtime snack (milk, banana, etc.) or nursing (optional)
* Bath – a bath is a great way to establish a transition to bedtime
* PJs and lotion (perhaps a night time pull up)
* Sensory Play (See below!)
* Read 2-3 short books (I recommend the last book be the same every night as you work to
establish a routine)
* Last Orders – If your child has a habit of asking for more and more things at bedtime (thus
stalling), you can put in this strategy (more below)
* Tuck in and say your goodnights
* Turn off the lights (maybe turn on the night light) and turn on the white noise machine (or
Trouble Shooting Bedtime Routine Challenges
Transition Refusal – this is when your toddler flat out refuses to transition to bedtime. This often looks like refusing to clean up their activity (such as cleaning up legos or turning off the TV) or perhaps transitioning out of the bath.
Transitions are often difficult in general and I often find that toddlers who struggle with transitions at bedtime also show transition struggles at other points in the day (getting in the car, getting out of the car, meal times, etc.). It makes sense though, doesn’t it? No one wants to stop a desired activity that they are invested in for something someone else is making them do! I know I don’t. Kids are no different. Try these tips for Transition Woes:
*Make transitions FUN!!! My go to is using animals, so for example: if your toddler struggles with transitioning from playing with their toy up to bath, make it fun and pretend like you are an animal going up stairs (mix it up! One day you are an elephant and one you are a mouse – let your kid pick!). Pretending you are on parade is fun and silly – use the whimsical nature of toddlers to your advantage. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much.
*Use warnings. I like a layered warning system because it offers a bit more structure and the brain has a chance to actually process what is being asked. For example: “In 5 minutes, it is going to be time to go upstairs for bed, start thinking about cleaning up.” THEN, offer ANOTHER warning: “2 minutes until bath time, let’s start cleaning up – I will help you!”
PRO-TIP: Use fun timers for this, my favorite kid friendly timers are these large hourglass timers that they can use independently! (As an Amazon Associate I may earn commission from this link).
*Distraction. Never discount the power of distraction. Getting your toddler to forget about their woes and turn their attention to something else can be very effective!
When we think of a bedtime routine, we often think of calm, serene, and quiet. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Our bodies and our minds often need to be primed to prepare for sleep. Sensory play will offer your child a way to get your toddler on board and ready for sleep by soothing the senses and regulating system.
For some, this may be the calm and quiet play one typically envisions. But for others, this may actually be jumping, running, wrestling. This is ok too – it is important to offer what your child needs! Carve out a space for that moment, give it a time limit, and incorporate it into your child’s bedtime routine. Sensory Play can easily become your child’s favorite part of bedtime because it often can be fun, silly, and IS play!
Making a Pizza: This is one of my favorite bedtime activities and nearly all the parents of toddler and pre-school kiddos I work with love it. It both is sensory soothing and builds connection. This should take about 3-5 minutes.
Lay your child on their belly on the bed. They you will say something like “We are going to make a pizza! What do I need first? The dough!” and you take your hands and knead her back. Then ask, “Now what? Right, the sauce!” and take your hands to rub circles on their back. There is no wrong way to do this – just make up the hand motions: tap our fingers for sprinkling cheese, deep thumb prints for pepperoni, etc. Getting input from your child on the pizza toppings makes it really fun. Once you all are familiar with the routine, your child can do it to you!
Countdown Challenge: 10 jumping jacks, 9 toe touches, 8 wall push ups, 7 arm circles, 6 squats, 5 seconds of running in place, 4 wall touches, 3 BIG hugs, 2 deep breathes, and 1 kiss.
Other sensory strategies to keep in mind: Use organized movement and heavy work with engaging and meaningful activities (vs allowing your kiddo to run amuck); Use linear movements (vs spinning movements); Choose books with engaging songs/body movements before sitting down to read. Such as: Blanket swings; Tug of war with a blanket, Pillow Crash (jumping from one pillow to another in an obstacle like arrangement).
And finally, one of the biggest challenges I see with toddlers is stalling at bedtime. This is when your child repeatedly asks for things just to delay bedtime.
Children love to test boundaries and one way they do that is to see what they can get away with.
At bedtime, this often is in the form of asking mom/dad for last minute requests/needs even after mom/dad have left the room requiring you to come back.
My favorite strategy to eliminate this is called “Last Orders.” Offering this as part of your bedtime routine will give your child an opportunity to ask for whatever they need to go to sleep and you can feel confident and reassured that your child has what they need for bed so you don’t have to keep on going in their room giving them something new.
Set a timer on your phone (3-5 minutes) and allow them to ask for anything they want/need. As long as the request is within reason (no food or screens), give it to them! But when the timer goes off, last orders are done and it is time to go to bed no ifs, ands, or buts. If your child has become accustomed to getting their requests granted, this may be met with protest. Holding firm to your boundary here is important and keeps you in charge.
These strategies will If you are needing a little fine tuning with your toddler’s bedtime, please reach out! I offer 30 minute strategy calls to support you in these situations - click here to book your call! And, if you haven’t downloaded my toddler bedtime cards, do that now! Adding visuals for your child can be super helpful.