Father reads toddler son a book to help him go to sleep

Mastering Your Toddler’s Bedtime Routine

You never realize how important alone time and a good night’s sleep are until you don’t have them. Before kids, there were easy and reasonable options for catching up on your rest. It just meant choosing to stay home on a Friday night or simply turn in an hour earlier. Once you have kids, time alone and quality sleep become elusive. I’m talking “Bigfoot riding a Unicorn” elusive. Before you know it, you’re so sleep deprived that you’d go to some crazy lengths to get a little down time. The good and the not-so-good news is that “alone time” and “bedtime” are one in the same for us parents. If you can get your kids to go down at a reasonable hour, you increase your likelihood of time alone and that much-needed good night’s sleep.

If you came to this article expecting to find a bulletproof method of getting your little ones to sleep, you are going to be VERY disappointed. And if you think such a method exists, please email me directly. I’d love to hear about it.

What I can offer you are some tips that have worked for my kids, but more importantly, some solidarity in knowing that you are not alone in your struggles. No parent has ever truly mastered bedtime.

Before we get started, I’ll remind you of a piece of advice you’ve probably heard before: routine is everything when it comes to bedtime. We started our kids on a schedule the moment they came home from the hospital (though it’s obviously been adapted as our babies have grown into toddlers). Every child is different, but here are some tips that have worked well for us:

  • Start the Routine Early: If your kids are anything like mine, the joys of growing out of diapers came alongside the heartache of them deciding they had also grown out of naps (and we all know how much fun a tired toddler can be!). Since my kids now stay awake through the day, we make sure to start our bedtime routine a little earlier in the evenings (and at around the same time each night).
  • Bathtime = Calm Down Time: Bathtime marks the official start of bedtime in our house. We like to add lavender and other calming scents to our children’s baths. Do I believe these scents actually make them sleep any better or calm down? Not really. Do I believe that my kids think they do? Absolutely.
  • Three Books: Next, we head upstairs for teeth-brushing and reading. Both children get to choose three books a piece. I don’t do much to structure this time. I let them pick whatever they want to read (which usually backfires and ends with me reading Christmas books in August) and we always finish with the same book every night. We read it together as a group, another signal that the day is done and it is time to lay down.
  • Don’t Force Anything: Look, I don’t love that my son usually has enough toy trucks in his bed to start a used car lot and that my daughter puts on dance recitals for her dolls almost every night for an hour. But it keeps them occupied for long enough until they finally give in to sleep. If I tried to fight this, it would end up with the kids crying, me hoarse from yelling and my wife wondering why she decided to sign up for all of this. Try not to stress – there’s nothing wrong with a little end-of-day playtime.
  • Stick to Your Guns: I know I just told you to not force anything. That being said, negotiations are your enemy. Requests like “Five more minutes!” can quickly get out of control.  Each time you allow deviations in the routine, it gets a little less likely that your toddlers will want to follow it tomorrow night. Don’t give in!
  • But Also Give In Sometimes: As I stated before, I am a sucker for those I love. So when it’s 10 p.m. and I hear my daughter calling from the top of the stairs, asking to give me one more hug and one more kiss, of course I say yes. One day very soon, she will rush home, close her door and go to bed without thinking of my hugs and kisses. So, sure – come on down here, kiddo. I’m gonna make that hug last a liiiiiiiitle longer than you even hoped it would.

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