Do you ever find yourself trying to do ALL THE THINGS to help your toddler get into bed at night?
You’re not alone! Read on for my 4 tips to help you get a smooth bedtime with your toddler!
I’ve had quite a few clients lately who’ve had toddler bedtime battles we needed to work through.
In fact, I have a client right now - a 2.5 year old - and the child is NOT LOVING bedtime at all. But, you better believe that by the time we’re done working together, this will be a different story.
The minute this mom mentions sleep, the child goes bonkers.
We are doing all the things - making sure they spend lots of quality time together as a family in the evenings, using bedtime routine cards as a visual support, and even utilizing a reward chart with stickers.
Last summer, a memorable client did everything he could to elongate the bedtime routine and stall getting into bed. We had to get very creative when it came time to brush his teeth. We ended up finding a crocodile toy that he could practice brushing teeth with (role playing - how fun!) and then he was all about it.
The thing with toddlers, though, is that they’re so busy testing boundaries - and especially during transitions, like bedtime - that it just takes a bit longer for things to fall into place. And that’s okay…we meet them where they are at, and work to move them forward.
Today I’m sharing my best tips to help you help your toddler during their bedtime transitions.
Make bedtime, and transitions, fun.
Bedtime should not be a stressful time of evening. We want it to gradually move from high energy to low energy, preparing your child to wind down for sleep. It should be fun, as well as a time for connection!
Most families will start the wind down process with bathtime. There are so many ways to make bathtime your child’s favorite time of the day: use bath crayons, bath bombs that change the color of the water or have a small toy on the inside, and maybe even get some fun towels so there is some motivation to actually get out of the tub when the time comes.
Role playing with dolls and toys can also be a really engaging, useful way to move through the bedtime routine. For example, if your child has a favorite stuffed animal, your child can do the bedtime routine with it before you do the bedtime routine with them. They can pretend to give their teddy bear a bath, dry it off, brush its teeth, read a book to it, sing it a song, and tuck it into bed. Then, it’s their turn!
Another super helpful way to get your child from one activity to another is to give them choices. Children need to feel like they have some control over what’s going on around them, so providing them with a few of your preferred options is an easy way to help them transition. For example, you can say, “How would you like to go up to your bath…jump like a kangaroo or fly like a bird?” Or, “Which towel would you like to use tonight? The striped one or the polka dot one?” Essentially, there is no option that allows them to not get in the tub when it’s bath time, or to not get out of it when it’s time.
Most children are visual learners when they’re toddlers, and using visuals to cue them can also be incredibly helpful at bedtime.
I’d recommend having some toddler bedtime cards that you can show them between activities. Show them the appropriate card as you’re talking about it and the next as you’re preparing to move onto the next part of the routine. For example, if it’s time to clean up their toys, show them that card and the one that’s next - bathtime. Say, “First we will clean up, and then we will take a bath.”
Also, some sort of color-changing clock, like the Hatch, that cues them when the bedtime routine starts, when it’s time to get into bed, and when it’s okay to wake for the day, can be a very useful tool that takes the emotion out of these transitions. “Oh, I see your clock turned yellow - you know what that means: time to take a bath!” You, the parent, are no longer the bad guy.
You can also use timers - setting and giving them a fair warning that a transition will soon be happening. I recommend something like the Time Timer - your child can actually see the time passing.
In addition to the visuals, audible warnings like, “2 more minutes to play, then we’re going to take a bath.” can also help your child through the transition between activities.
Use positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement yields positive results. Use some sort of reward system when trying to help your child learn a new skill…like sleep! Or, getting through the tasks of bedtime.
Stickers can go a long way with a little one. Get your child involved and have them pick out the stickers to go on their chart. Have them choose their prizes so they know exactly what they are working towards.
Start small - reward desired behaviors early and often. Then, as your child is experiencing success, up the ante and hold them accountable to a bit more in order to get their reward.
As your child hones the skill, you can wean away from rewards as it becomes an internalized behavior.
Utilize large motor play and get outside!
It may seem obvious, but get your child outside. Go to a park. There are two big reasons you’ll want to do this:
Circadian rhythms are directed by light and darkness. Exposure to natural sunlight in the morning, mid-day, and in the evening helps ensure that the appropriate sleep and wake hormones are released at the appropriate times, helping your little one get a good night’s sleep.
Your child needs that large motor muscle input to help tire them out! Burn off that energy right before bedtime, and then switch gears and start your soothing bedtime routine.
You’ll notice that if your child has these sensory needs met prior to starting their bedtime routine, they’ll be ready to relax when the time comes.
If your toddler seems to be a complex puzzle when it comes to bedtime or sleep, and you’re not sure where to start, you do not have to worry. Try these tips and reach out if you find you need more help. You can set up a free 30-minute call with me here. I’d love to chat with you and help you - and your toddler - get the rest you need and deserve!