6 Steps for Establishing a Bedtime Routine for Your Toddler

Does bedtime feel like an endless battle at your house? The minutes/hours leading up to bedtime are a battle zone.

And yet, good sleep is vital to our children’s development, behavior, and emotions, but how can we help our toddler stop fighting sleep?

We suggest establishing a bedtime routine that will help your toddler calmly fall asleep. Once your toddler is overtired, it will actually take him longer to fall asleep, which is why it’s important to start the bedtime routine early.

Without more delay, here are the surefire steps to establishing a bedtime routine your toddler will actually enjoy following.

1. Be as Consistent as Possible.

Sleep expert Jodi Mindell says, “Your toddler will be more relaxed if he knows what’s coming next.”

  • Depending on what you include in your routine, you should start 45 minutes to 1 hour before your child’s actual bedtime.
  • Aim to get your child to bed at the same time every night (even on weekends) and wake up at the same time.
  • Make sure your child knows exactly what to expect as part of the bedtime routine.

We suggest using a bedtime routine chart with visuals that your child can follow along.

2. Take Charge and Set Boundaries.

Jennifer Waldburger, a pediatric sleep consultant states, “A task of the toddler is to push and test.”

  • Set healthy boundaries as to what parts of the bedtime routine can change and what cannot.
  • Knowing that someone’s in charge actually makes your child feel more comfortable.
  • As a parent, remain constant about your expectations for bedtime and continue to make the experience positive for your child.

3. Avoid Screen Time

A recent study found that some kids who had more screen time before bed took longer to fall asleep.

  • Shut off electronics 90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Watch how your child behaves with electronics, the external light can prevent melatonin release, so they don’t have that “I feel sleepy” feeling.

4. Give Your Toddler Choices, Not Ultimatums

When establishing a bedtime routine, if your child feels like they have a say in their routine, they are more likely to accept it.

  • Give your child a choice between two things that relate to the task at hand, bedtime.
    • Would you like to wear the tiger pajamas or the ladybug pajamas?
    • Would you like to skip or walk to the bath?

5. Always Keep It Calm

Find activities that allow your child to stay at a resting heart rate instead of running around trying to “burn off excess energy.”

  • Have a handful of calmer activities that your child enjoys to rotate on a nightly basis. Save tickle monster and blow kisses for the daytime hours.
  • Try playing calming music, give your child a soothing lavender bath, or read quiet books before bed.

6. Set a Timer

As bedtime draws near, your child may easily get distracted by toys or other activities, so it’s important to have a clear signal.

  • Set a timer to go off 15 minutes before actual bedtime, it will give them an audible cue that it is “focus” time.
  • The cue tells your child, from this point forward they are expected to be in bed, calmly reading, counting sheep, or cuddling with a parent.

Establishing a bedtime routine for your “wild child” toddler can feel like a daunting task, but creating a collaborative and visual bedtime routine will make the process easier for you and your child.

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