Creating a Simple Toddler Bedtime Routine

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Is bedtime a smooth and easy transition in your house? Or is it one filled with chaos and tears? Toddler bedtime doesn’t have to be a struggle! All you need is a good, consistent toddler bedtime routine to bring peace to your evenings.

Routines are becoming a hot commodity in our household since seeing all the wonderful benefits they offer! Our daily toddler routine and my evening SAHM routine have taught me that routines don’t have to be boring. They can be wonderful things if done correctly!

How to Start a Toddler Bedtime Routine Perfect for Toddlers 18 months to 3 years

We started a bedtime routine with Blake when he was 4 months old as part of our sleep training. It instantly began to help him know when bedtime was and helped him to wind down. The same can be said now for his and Raelynn’s toddler bedtime routine. 

They both know when bedtime is not because of what the clock says but because they know the routine. They know when point A of the routine starts, point B is to follow and so on. It is a nonverbal trigger to them that it is time to go to bed. 

The kids are currently 3 years old and 18 months and have done well with their bedtime routine. It is a quick and easy process with no tears which makes it a win for us.

The routine has adapted to both of them as they have grown. Since they share a room we do their bedtime at the same time. As they get older we may allow Blake to stay up later but right now it works to have them on the same bedtime routine.

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How to Start a Toddler Bedtime Routine

Starting a toddler bedtime routine may seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t need to be. If started early, a toddler bedtime routine can be a seamless process for a toddler. We started ours while both kids were very young but even if you wait till they are older it can still be extremely helpful. 

Keep Your Toddler Bedtime Routine Simple

If it is complex it will often confuse the kids or overwhelm them. Not to mention it will be hard for you to remember the whole routine too if it’s too long. Keeping a simple routine helps things run smoothly and keep everyone on task.

Be Consistent

The first thing you want to do is pick a bedtime to shoot for consistently every night (be stricter with this at the beginning). Aim to start this routine at the same time every night. We start our bedtime routine around 7:30 PM and put the kids to bed around 8:00 PM. This is later than most of their peers but they have been doing it since they were babies and it ensures that I don’t get a 6 or 7 AM wakeup call (I am NOT a morning person at all).

Piecing Together Your Toddler Bedtime Routine

Next decide what aspects of a routine you would like to incorporate and figure out which you will do first, second, and so forth. Below are listed some wind down bedtime routine tasks that can help get you started with this aspect of the routine.

Give a bath

Read a book

Do a family devotional (we love this one.)

Diffuse a sleepy time essential oil blend

Play quietly in their room

Sing songs

Say prayers

After you decide what aspects you want added in your routine and in which order it is time to test out that routine. The key thing to remember is your bedtime routine should help trigger sleep time for your kids. So, if they get hyped up from a bath then don’t make that their bedtime routine. If singing leads to dancing and getting energetic then maybe that is best left for another time. You will go through some trial and error to find what works best for you.

I suggest trying out your routine for one week before changing anything. If you find that after a week some aspect isn’t working then move it around or get rid of it. Maybe bath time needs to be first and then play quietly in their room or vice versa.

What Our Toddler Bedtime Routine Looks Like

Like I said earlier, we have been implementing and fine tuning our routine since Blake was roughly 4 to 5 months old. It has evolved and changed over time but for the most part it has stayed pretty consistent.

Around 7:30, after finishing supper and playing outside or watching TV, we put the kids in the bathtub for bath time. I usually let them play for about 15 minutes or so then I go in and finish washing them up. It should be noted that this is the start of our routine because some nights it simply isn’t feasible to give them a bath.

After bath time they get their pjs on and brush their teeth. Raelynn (18 months) has just started joining in on the teeth brushing aspect. 

If we have time we may play in the floor with them but most of the time we move to reading books or our family devotional. We are loving Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment kids devotional. Reading to the kids helps them kinda wind down and relax…sort of. Most of the time they run around the room while I read.

After we get done reading we say bedtime prayers, turn off the lights and put the kids in bed. We just started singing a song to Blake that we used to sing to him as a newborn and it has soothed him so much. It’s almost like he remembers it from his newborn days. We give them hugs and kisses and then walk out the door.

What To Do if Child Misbehaves at Bedtime

Like any parenting technique, a toddler bedtime routine is not foolproof. It may signal it’s time for bed but it won’t always bring about the desired behavior of sleep that you wish for. Sometimes your kid will misbehave at bedtime. Whether it is stalling by asking for everything under the sun, getting out of bed, throwing things, crying and screaming…you name it. 

Blake is our strong willed, determined child and therefore gives us LOTS of practice with how to handle misbehaving situations. The misbehaving issues above…we have dealt with ALL of them with Blake. 

Now, I am not saying we are perfect and have it figured out, because we definitely don’t. Some nights it doesn’t matter what we do, the misbehavior still occurs. Other nights our disciplining and parenting efforts bring success.

So, with that here is what we have found works in our situation about 80 to 90 percent of the time when misbehaving issues arise

Toddler Asking for Things Right at Bedtime

This seems to be a very common tactic used by the opposition (toddler). This is an area where we have had to stand our ground and use restraint. We also assess it case by case.

Blake is night time potty trained and due to that we cut off water about 2 hours before bedtime. He has recently gotten in the habit of asking for water as we lay him down.

If I think he is genuinely thirsty because he didn’t drink enough at super I may get him a sip (I’m talking less than ¼ cup) of water. If however, he had plenty to drink at supper then I remind him, “You can’t have water because it makes you pee pee in the bed. You had plenty of water at supper and you can get some in the morning.”

What you want to be careful about here is falling into the trap of giving into the demands of your toddler right at bedtime. To alleviate this you can offer them what they typically ask for at the start of your routine and be clear about the fact that if they ask for it later they won’t get it.

If you continually give your toddler exactly what they ask for (food, drink, etc.) then you will start a habit and expectation. Your toddler will start to learn that this tactic of theirs is effective in stalling bedtime. 

So, my suggestion is stick to your guns on this one. Be consistent in your response and how you handle it. They are waiting for the one time you cave and they have leverage over you. If you feel they truly do need what they are asking for then explain to them why this time you are allowing it. Ex. with Blake and the water I would say, “I will let you have a small sip because you didn’t drink any at supper. Tomorrow you need to drink at supper.”

Toddler Keeps Getting Out of Bed

A problem that we didn’t originally have when moving Blake to his toddler bed was him getting out of bed. However, at some point, he started getting up and playing or hurting his sister, whenever we would leave the room. This seems to be a very common toddler sleep problem and may have just been a phase but we found a few things that helped us through this bedtime issue.

Camera Monitor In Room

The first thing that has really helped us as far as Blake’s bedtime routine is having a camera set up in his room. We tried your typical baby monitor camera but hated the quality of the camera and the features it offered for the price we paid. So, we found a cheaper alternative with way better specs. Our camera pans, has live streaming and a playback option, can save video and allows us to speak through it.

This camera has be so helpful for so many aspects of parenting but it really helps during bedtime. We are able to see what is going on without ever having to enter the room. When Blake gets out of bed we get a notification that there was movement and can see what he is doing. We had some success in simply speaking over the camera and telling him to get back in bed. This method did not work consistently but it helped with us not having to go in the room constantly.

Discipline When They Get Out of Bed

We are all about some consistent discipline in this household. Blake is very strong willed and has shown time and time again that consistent discipline keeps him on track. When we slack off is when he gets CRAZY! 

So, while this tactic may not be everyone’s cup of tea it is worth mentioning because it does help. Whenever Blake gets out of bed he is typically told (through the camera) to get back in bed. Then he is told if he gets out of bed again there will be a disciplinary consequence. 

Being the strong willed child that he is, a threat of discipline is not enough to deter him from repeating the behavior. He typically tests the waters multiple times to see if we mean what we say. This is where consistent discipline helps to teach them that you mean what you say and say what you mean.

On a good night it only takes a couple times at most for disciplinary action to send the message. On the rough nights it can turn into a battle but we have learned that we have to win EVERY battle in order to keep the peace and teach him that his actions have consequences.

A key thing with any disciplinary measure you use is to ALWAYS end it with love and forgiveness. We always tell him we love him no matter what bad choice he has made. And then we say, “We forgive you for disobeying and making a bad choice. I hope you make good choices next time.” This is to let him know that despite his poor choices of disobedience we still care for him and that the discipline isn’t a punishment time but rather a teaching time to learn from your mistakes.

Sleep to Wake Alarm for Toddler Bedtime Routine Success

We finally got a sleep to wake alarm as our last ditch effort to teach Blake to stay in bed. The concept behind this little alarm clock is to use colors to teach a toddler when it is ok to get out of bed. This alarm clock has been a huge parenting win! 

You can read about all the wonderful aspects of how the alarm clock helps keep a toddler in bed here. This method hasn’t proved foolproof for keeping Blake in bed but combined with the other tips above it really helps to remind him to get back into bed. He often listens and hops right back in. 

Toddler Throwing Things at Bedtime

There are some nights where bedtime is just simply a struggle despite following our peaceful toddler bedtime routine. Some days are just days with bad attitudes and struggles. That is to be expected, especially in the toddler years. But, what is not tolerated is a continuation of negative responses to having a bad mood. Just like I shouldn’t yell at the kids out of anger, I don’t want my kids throwing things out of frustration and anger. It is not how we handle our emotions.

There have been countless nights that Blake has been in a TERRIBLE mood and decides to make it know by throwing things and hitting the door. We do not want him to think it is ok to destroy things and hit stuff when he is angry. It is perfectly fine to be upset and say so but it is never ok to act out in that anger in a way that harms things.

With this bedtime issue we follow a similar pattern as above with consistent discipline and consequences. He is told to stop and told if he continues there will be consequences. If he chooses to continue throwing things then we go into the bedroom and take away whatever he threw. We remind of the consequences and leave. Often this is a task that has to be repeated before he stops (strong willed nature coming out full force).

Another thing we do to alleviate this bedtime issue is to lock up all his toys in his closet. We have a toy rotation system in place and keep the toys locked up daily unless they are in rotation. This has proved extremely beneficial to their play but also at night. It takes away the distraction of lots of toys and it eliminates what is accessible to throw out of anger.

Toddler Crying and Screaming at Bedtime

Some nights the kids go to bed fine but then as soon as we shut the door they start screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. This can be especially frustrating if it is a frequent occurrence. There are several ways we have found helpful in handling this bedtime routine issue.

First, it is always a good idea to figure out why they are crying. Are they hurt? Teething? Are they scared? Lonely? Are they angry? Is it simply an effective way to get you back in the room?

Once you figure out which reason it is then you know better how to proceed. Obviously if they are hurt, teething, scared or anything along those lines it means we go back in the room. We give them medicine, pray with them, snuggle and calm them. Whatever reassures them that we are there to be their safe place.

If they are crying/screaming because they are angry or because they are using it as a tactic to get you in the room then most of the time we simply ignore it. We may say something reassuring over the camera to calm them. But a lot of the times toddlers will cry and scream because they know you respond to that. They are crafty and use whatever means they can. Obviously if they have been screaming endlessly then go console them but letting them cry for these reasons for a limited time isn’t going to hurt them. We have found that often it ends within 10 minutes or less.

If we have to go in and console them we do it promptly and do not set up a system where it becomes a nightly habit they use. We comfort and reassure but we don’t spend more than 5 to maybe 10 minutes in there. Our kids have done a great job of being very independent sleepers but it was sleep trained into them. Our goal is to teach them we are there for them but we also want them to grow in independence from us. 

Bedtime Routines Take Time but They Do Work

Any toddler whether a 3 year old or 18 month old is going to need some practice with their bedtime routine. But, if you are consistent with your routine and handling bedtime misbehavior issues then you will see the fruit of it. A toddler bedtime routine will turn bedtime in an easy and enjoyable process. 

Our bedtime routine is usually very peaceful and produces peaceful sleep and happy toddlers. Occasionally we have our bedtime misbehavior but for the most part the kids go right to sleep with no issue. 

A bedtime routine has become a great thing in our house for keeping bedtime on schedule and peaceful. Bedtime can become that for you too!

Do you have a bedtime routine in place? What bedtime issues has your toddler struggled with?

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