Bed time with toddlers can be quite frustrating. Many times, the minute a toddler hears the phrase “bed time,” they immediately become energized, famished, and severely dehydrated. We have all heard the excuses to try and delay going to sleep: I’m hungry, I need a drink, I’m not tired, etc. Sometimes a parent’s only peace comes after their children are fast asleep. If that’s the case, typically you would want this night time routine to go as smoothly as possible and as quickly as possible.
My son hasn’t always been the best sleeper, but at the age of 3, bed time is rarely a fight in our home. Here are some tips and tricks that I have learned.
Follow Your Child’s Natural Rhythms
Not every parent will agree with me on this one, and that’s ok. I always say you need to do what works best for your family. However, what has worked well for my family is to follow my son’s natural patterns for sleeping.
Even as an infant, my son’s longest stretch of sleep always came later at night. He would naturally wake later in the morning than other children his age. So as he grew into a toddler, I followed what seemed to be his body’s natural schedule. Because he has always been what I refer to as a “late” baby, we have done later bed times for him, and allowed him to sleep later. This may not always be possible, if parents work, or have schedules they need to keep to, but it has seemed to help for my family.
My son will typically go to sleep around 9 pm, and sleep until 7 or 8 am. He still naps 1.5 to 2 hours per day. When we would try to get him to go to sleep earlier, say 7 or 8 pm, it was always a huge fight and he wouldn’t end up being asleep until around 9 or later.
The reverse of this, if your child gets sleepy earlier, say 7 pm, I would try and go with that pattern. Some parents will try and keep their children up later in hopes that they will sleep later. If it works for you, that’s excellent. In my house, it always backfired and ended with sleep deprived kid and parents.
Have a Calming Down Routine
This has been huge for making a smoother bed time in our house. It doesn’t always have to be the exact same either. You can find a couple of activities that will help your child wind down and rotate them if needed.
In my home, we have 3 different things we might do before bed time. On nights when my son is extra energetic, I will give him a nice, long bath and let him play and splash and wear himself out. By the time he is finished, the excess energy is gone and he is ready to relax. Another one we do often is reading books before bed. I will let my son pick out a number of books, and we will snuggle up in his bed, and read quietly.
The last one we use in my house on occasion is screen time. I have a very active child, so sometimes he just cant be still. Giving him his tablet for a half hour before bed or allowing him to watch a calm cartoon (no crazy action or adventures) before bed will help his body be still and relax. Not everyone believes in screen time but for us it works.
Be Consistent and Firm
I like to give warning that bed time is coming. It helps my child be prepared for the fact that he is going to have to go to sleep soon. Once the time comes, he climbs into bed and lays down. Either my husband or I will lay with him for a few minutes and talk about his day. We will quietly talk about what we will be doing tomorrow. Then its goodnight. No exceptions.
The key is being consistent. It may take a few days for your child to adjust, but once they understand that this is the way things are, they will accept it. Be strong and firm and don’t give in. It will be hard sometimes, but it will benefit your bed time experience in the long run.
Be Clear on Exceptions
There will occasionally be exceptions to your bed time routines. Holidays, vacations, illnesses, and special events can all throw bed time off. For these times, I recommend being clear with your child about why things will be different and that this is a “special” thing and not something that will happen every day.
An example is when my son is sick, we might let him sleep in our bed with us. We always make sure he know that its a special occasion, and not something he can do every day. He has his own bed and his “friends” (stuffed animals he sleeps with) will miss him. I try to make the exceptions to bed time rare, but my husband is a little more lax about it. We still don’t have issues as long as we are clear about it.
Have Needs Met Before Bed Time
Kids will sometimes try anything and everything to get out of going to sleep. This is where the classics: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I have to go potty…etc. come into play. We do dinner, and then a snack closer to bed time. Maybe a sippy cup with a small amount of liquids.
They will still try. My son has literally said he was hungry after eating a full dinner and with a mouthful of crackers that he had as a snack. I got him some more and he didn’t even eat them. It was an excuse to try and keep playing. Once you know their needs are met, you can be firm and relatively guilt-free about sending them to bed. (I say relatively because mom guilt will never let you be 100% free)
These are just some tips and tricks that have worked for us. Every child is so different, so the key is to find what works best for them and for you. Hopefully, some of these will help with a smoother bed time in your home, but if not, don’t give up. Keep trying different things. Parenting is all about trial and error. Just know that it doesn’t need to be a fight every night.