Creating a bedtime routine for your toddler

How to create a relaxing sleep time routine before your little one’s head hits the pillow

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Your tot craves routine because it makes her feel safe and secure. Establishing one at bedtime can be tricky at first, but it’s important to repeat the same activities in the same order at the same time each night, even when you’re away from home. This way, your little one knows what will happen next – and so do you.

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Not sure where to start? Begin the wind down rituals an hour before sleep time, with the last 15-20 minutes in her bed, or follow our suggested routine for blissful beddy-byes.

6pm: Unwind with fun and cuddles

After dinner, offer your tot a drink of warm milk and cuddle up together for some quiet time watching a favourite TV programme. Chat with your little one about what’s happening in the story to encourage communication skills and improve vocabulary.

6.20pm: Soak in the bath

Tub time should be short and sweet. Add some calming, lavender-scented bubbles to the warm water and don’t have too many toys in the bath. This is time for your toddler to relax, so you want to avoid over-stimulating her. Once she’s dry, slather on some lotion and give her a soothing massage. Your little one can’t choose what time she goes to bed, but give her some control by letting her choose which pyjamas to wear. This will make it an exciting part of the daily routine to look forward to. While you help her dress, use gentle reminders of what’s coming next, such as: “Once you’re in your PJs, we’ll brush your teeth.” Some toddlers aren’t overly keen on this part of the routine, so make it enjoyable by giving your little one a colourful toothbrush and singing a fun song.

Try to avoid rushing your tot, but don’t let her dawdle either. A great way to keep things moving at a steady pace, while also encouraging your toddler’s listening skills, is to play the game ‘Simon says’ – Simon says wash your face, choose your PJs, brush your teeth, and so on. 

6.40pm: Pre-snooze stretching

“Plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day will make bedtime easier,” says child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin. “All parents know that when their children have a good run around they’re tired and sleep better. Boisterous indoor exercise often gets children overhyped and, in these cases, yoga-based exercises can help children wind down after a stimulating day.”

6.45pm: Snuggle up with a story

According to the Booktrust charity, even just 10 minutes a day will help your toddler’s development. Encourage your tot’s independence by letting her pick which story to read, but narrow down the choices so she doesn’t take all night.

The soothing sound of your voice will not only help lull your little one to sleep, but will also make reading a fun and familiar experience and build her literacy skills. Stephanie Cooper, editor of Waybuloo magazine, says: “Play tuck up the teddy then share a story from Waybuloo magazine together – the stories are gentle and calm so perfect for bedtime.”

Stephanie also suggests making a special ‘All About Me’ scrapbook with your toddler during the day, which you can then read together at bedtime. “Collect drawings done by her, and start writing down a few of the special things that she says make you both laugh and put these into the book, too. Add a few photos from when she was a baby, as well as pics of family, friends and pets,” she suggests.

6.55pm: A comforter to cuddle

After you’ve finished the story, tuck your tot into bed with a soft toy to help her feel safe. Spend a couple of minutes talking about your day together to help develop her memory and language skills and to end the day on a happy note. Have one last cuddle then turn off the lights (switch on a night light if your little one’s afraid of the dark). Before you walk out of the room, say goodnight using a repetitive phrase like “Goodnight, sleep tight,” so your tot knows that it’s time to settle herself to sleep. If she gets upset or cries, tell her you’ll be back in a few minutes to check on her, but avoid getting into a discussion. Then make sure you keep your promise – chances are, she’ll be in the land of nod when you pop back in.

Night wanderer

Once your little one’s snuggled up in bed, getting her to stay there can be a challenge. She’s keen to push the boundaries of her independence but while climbing out to visit mum and dad may be lots of fun for her, it’s pretty frustrating for you.

The first time she sneaks out, remind her gently that it’s bedtime and lead her back to bed, before tucking her in with a kiss and a cuddle, and leaving the room. Second time round, repeat the same routine, but use a firmer voice and make your kiss and cuddle brief. If she still doesn’t stay put, silently take her back to her room, tuck her in without a cuddle, and leave the room. This can be tough to carry out, but your child will soon learn if you’re consistent in your approach.

Reward your tot

Toddlers love getting praise, so give your little one lots of positive attention when she does the right thing and she’ll bend over backwards to get more smiles from you. One way to encourage her to stick to her bedtime routine is to reward her good behaviour by using a simple star chart. Start by making a chart with your little one, explaining each step of the routine and why it’s important, such as “We need to brush our teeth so they stay healthy and strong”. Then give her a star for each part of the routine that she gets right – including staying tucked up in bed. When she reaches the required amount of stickers – for instance, by completing each step of the routine for one whole week, reward her with a prize, like a trip to the park or a small toy.

Your checklist for a fuss-free bedtime

  • Have quiet time an hour before bed so she unwinds.
  • Avoid stimulating activity and toys before bed.
  • Let her make decisions, but limit the choices on offer. 
  • Your tot’s room should be relaxing with soft lighting.
  • Give her attention by reading and talking to her.
  • Comfort your tot if she’s scared, but avoid discussions or pleading with her.
  • Be consistent. It takes commitment from you, but it’s worth the effort.
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How much sleep does your tot need?

There’s no magic number but, in general, toddlers need around 11-12 hours of sleep each night. To work out when bedtime should be, take 12 hours off the time she wakes each morning. For example, if she wakes at 7am, then she should be tucked up in bed at 7pm. 

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