5 Secrets to an Effective Toddler Bedtime Routine

5 Secrets to an Effective Toddler Bedtime Routine (sm)
These 5 secrets to an Effective Toddler Bedtime Routine are extremely important in order to maintain a sense of peace in the life of your family. In my opinion, an easy transition from playtime to bedtime is critical to the overall health of the family. And I believe it all starts with me ~ the mom.  I think it will help if I share our bedtime routine for my almost 3-year-old, Anna.  And as I do, I will highlight each secret in red and then explain them in more detail below.  Here is a quick glimpse into our home…
Anna knows it’s coming but chooses to consume herself in her painting anyway.  It’s not long before she realizes that I’m watching her so she begins to plead “No bedtime mommy, okay?”  She repeats it over and over again trying to convince me.  Yet, despite her pleas I begin to prepare her.
“Five more minutes Anna and then we need to get ready for bed.”
The time is 7:25 pm. She ignores me as I head toward her room to make sure it’s clean before we begin. If it’s not, we include that in our bedtime routine, (Choose your routine) but tonight it’s already picked up so I turn on her bedside lamp and push play on the CD player.  (Set the transition tone)  I turn the overhead light off on my way out as soft instrumental music begins to play.
“Okay Anna, it’s time to brush your teeth.”
She may resist for a moment, but eventually gives in because she knows it’ll do no good to argue.  Bedtime is coming whether she likes it or not.  (Consistency leads to cooperation)  I honestly think she really does look forward to our time together, she just wants the best of both worlds.  She puts away her paints and picks up her baby and pacifier.  She hears the music coming from her bedroom as we make our way to the bathroom.  I set her up on the edge of the counter and we begin — mommy first to make sure her teeth actually get clean — then Anna gets to do the finishing touches, rinse and spit.  As she climbs onto her changing table I begin to change her diaper and ask about her day. (speak in a soft voice)
“Did you have fun at the park today playing with your friends?”  “What was your favorite part?”  “Would you like to go back and play with your friends again next week?”   And as I go to put her pajamas on she stops me and says, “No jammies Mommy.  Purple pants instead.”   Purple is her favorite color, so I don’t take it personally that she declined my offered suggestion of evening attire, knowing that the world will not end if she sleeps in her clothes.  So, I agree and slip them on.  (Sometimes I even let her sleep in her favorite shoes because to her, she just can’t bear to part with them for what seems like an eternity of 12 hours in bed…. It’s okay to choose your battles.)
Once dressed, she climbs down and heads over to her bookcase to choose her book.  Tonight its  Love You Forever which is one of my favorites even though I can barely get through it without crying.  After we read her book, we finish with Goodnight Moon (which we read every night to ensure that Consistency leads to cooperation).  And as I turn off her bedside lamp I whisper, “Goodnight light,”  “Goodnight books,” and “Goodnight toys.”  Then as we slowly rock we say our prayers.  Tonight, she’s extra cuddly so I snuggle her a few extra minutes before we transition to her bed.  I carry her over and whisper “I love you” as I gently lay her down and cover her up, trying to maintain the quiet transition mood.  Once she is settled I begin the “wiggle, wiggle” time where I rock her back and forth while she is either lying on her side or on her tummy.
“A few more minutes Anna and then I need to go check on daddy” which is her cue that our time together is almost over.  Then before I leave her room for the night, I softly stroke her hair a few times and trail my finger around her ear and down her cheek as I tell her to have sweet dreams and that I’ll see her in the morning.  (End routine with a soft touch)  I quietly walk out of her room and close the door behind me, the soft music still playing.  Both of us know I will not come back until morning.  And we’re both okay with that.  It’s not long before Anna is fast asleep.
Our routine takes approximately 30 minutes and you must know that although my intention is to create an effective and consistent bedtime routine, sometimes life gets messy and we get off track.  That’s to be expected.  However, that should be the exception and not the rule.  For the majority of the time our nightly routine is very consistent.  This is for both of us because she needs her rest and I need some “me” time before I go to bed.  My “refueling” time is between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm (sometimes even later…) and its sacred to me so I guard it faithfully.  You need that time as well.
One of the most important things to remember is this:  You can battle your toddler for a few weeks until you both become consistent with the routine, or you can give up and battle your child for years to come.  The choice is yours.  Kids NEED structure…they crave it and it’s up to YOU to give it to them.  Yes it’s hard and frustrating and tiring.  Welcome to motherhood!  Regardless of the difficulty it’s still your job and you need to do it.  When children don’t know what to expect, (does mom really mean it tonight or can I fuss enough for her to give in and let me have my way?) that’s when they get anxious and then chaos ensues leading to stress, frustration, yelling, etc.  How can a child rest well when the last image they have in their mind is of you screaming at them?  So, here are the secrets listed in more detail to help turn the chaos into peace as you put your toddler to bed:

5 Secrets to an Effective Toddler Bedtime Routine:

  1. SCHEDULE ~ Choose your routine ~ What will work best for your family and situation?  Do you have more than one child?  Maybe set a schedule where each child gets to pick a book to read on a certain day (Bobby on Monday, Sally on Tuesday, etc).  Tailor the routine to fit your family so that it will be effective for everyone.  *Note: It must be a routine that you can maintain on a regular basis or you’re defeating the entire purpose.
  2. TONE ~ Set the transition mood ~ Get a cheap CD player and use a CD that will help calm your child(ren) so they will be ready to sleep.  I get mine at Wal-Mart from those music displays they have on the end-caps.  I have a couple of different CDs (waves crashing, soft piano hymns, etc) but choose to use one to keep the consistency of our routine.  Start the music before the routine begins.  This is their cue that the transition time has started.
  3. CONSISTENCY ~ Consistency leads to cooperation ~ This is key!!  If you drop the ball on this one, you have wasted your time and theirs.  You must, must, MUST maintain consistency.  I recommend implementing a routine as early as possible in the child’s life (12-15 months) so it will be much easier on each of you.  However, if you have children that are older, you will more than likely get resistance in the beginning (who likes change anyway??) so expect it and plan for it.  Once they realize that this is the way it’s going to be… they will cooperate.  Each child is different and it may take longer with some, but the key is you.  You must maintain the same sequence of events night after night.  No if, ands or buts about it… why?  Because I said so.  (Not really, but that’s what we tell our children, isn’t it?)  :)   Stick it out mom… they will get it.
  4. WHISPER ~ Speak in a soft voice ~ This helps the transition from daytime (loud) to nighttime (quiet).  I believe when we whisper to our children, they have to quiet their minds to listen more intently to what we’re saying which helps calm them down.  Most of our children are so engaged in the noise of the world, that they will come to look forward to having their “whisper time” with mommy.
  5. TENDERNESS ~ Always end routine with a soft touch ~ This one is especially important to me.  With all the brutality our kids face out in the world on a daily basis, I feel its only right that the last thing they feel and remember before falling asleep, is the tender touch of a loved one.  Think about it… wouldn’t you love to fall asleep with someone running their fingers through your hair and tenderly touching your face?  I mean, really??  I would!  So, as my little one drifts off to dreamland, I want her to feel contentment, love and security through the tenderness of my touch.
I am convinced that if you use these 5 Secrets to an Effective Toddler Bedtime Routine, the transition from playtime to bedtime in your home will turn from chaotic to peaceful, and will improve the overall health of your entire family.  So what do you have to lose?  Make a plan today and start it tonight.  You can do it!  Good luck!

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