We’ve always tried to follow a loose bedtime routine with our daughter. This routine will soon take on new importance as we transition her to a “big girl bed” to free up the crib for the baby we will welcome this summer.
All toddlers, not just those undergoing transitions, benefit from bedtime routines. The predictability of routines helps them feel safe and secure. Additionally, routines help them know precisely what to expect each night, which reduces the likelihood of confusion and tantrums. Here are the elements we have found to be important to include (and exclude) from our toddler’s bedtime routine.
Tips for effective toddler bedtime routines
- Do start their routines before they are tired. Once toddlers start yawning, they are already sleepy. Sleepiness makes it difficult for toddlers to make it through routines (even short ones) without fussing.
- Don’t include activities that will rile them up. These activities (e.g., roughhousing, tickling, hide and seek) heighten the hyperactivity that can occur naturally as toddlers get tired. Calm activities, on the other hand, create auras conducive to sleep.
- Do consider including a snack. Breakfast is a long time after dinner. In fact, some toddlers wake before they have had sufficient sleep due to hunger. A small, nutritious snack that includes protein helps fill toddlers’ tummies so they can sleep comfortably all night long.
- Don’t include screen time. According to experts, the glow from screens (TVs, tablets, computers, etc.) can cause a delay in the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin (source). Thus, it is best to avoid screen time before and during bedtime routines.
- Do brush their teeth. To support good dental health, it is a good idea to include tooth brushing in the bedtime routines of toddlers. They should brush their teeth (with appropriate help/supervision from parents) after they’ve finished their bedtime snacks.
- Don’t give them too many choices. It’s not unusual for toddlers to try to draw out their bedtime routines to delay when they actually have to go to bed. This is especially true when they are given the opportunity to choose between too many options. Therefore, it is often best to limit the choices available to them. For example, you may let your child choose between a blue pair of PJs and a green pair of PJs instead of letting him choose from an entire drawer full of PJs.
- Do include a calming activity or two. Calming activities (saying prayers, taking warm baths, listening to lullabies, reading stories, etc.) help toddlers transition from daytime activities to sleep. Choose activities that are enjoyable for your toddler and fit well in your routine.
Does your toddler have a bedtime routine? What does it look like? What elements make it beneficial?