The key to easy bedtimes is to have strong and consistent boundaries. This will help your toddler settle to sleep easily and sleep all night long. Your kid WANTS you to set limits and have boundaries. Your kid wants you to be in control.
In addition to your boundaries, the following ten things are like magic when it comes to creating a stress free bedtime:
1. HAVE A CONSISTENT BEDTIME:
Your toddler wants you to be in control of when it’s time for bed. So, set a consistent bedtime for your toddler and stick to it as closely as possible, give or take half an hour. Consistency in regards to ‘clock time’ helps regulate your child’s internal body clock and makes it easier for them to fall asleep. Avoid significant variations in bedtime, even on weekends or special occasions when you can, but don’t stress if you have the odd late night here or there.
2. ESTABLISH A BEDTIME ROUTINE:
Create a consistent bedtime routine which serves as a signal that bedtime is approaching. This will help your toddler transition from day time to sleep time at night. For example, your routine might involve a bath, brushing teeth, playing quietly, reading a story, and finally ‘saying goodnight to the things in the room’ before turning out the light. Doing the same things in the same order will cue your toddler that bedtime and sleep is coming. It will help your child relax and be ready for sleep.
3. PUT A POSITIVE SPIN ON THINGS:
Use positive language and emphasise the benefits of sleep such as feeling rested and having energy to play at the park the next day. Roleplay is a powerful teaching tool, so role play with a family member or a toy, to show your toddler what you expect at bedtime and what the night time will ‘look like’. Make bedtime fun by spending some focussed 1-1 time with your child. It doesn’t have to be for long. Ten to fifteen minutes is ‘like gold’ for your toddler but be sure to put your phone/distractions away. Don’t be afraid to incorporate some play into your bedtime routine and allow your child to take the lead.
4. KEEP THINGS LOW KEY (if you can):
Establish boundaries on activities that can delay bedtime. Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime such as watching TV or engaging in energetic play. Turn off screens at least an hour before bed. Blue light from screens can hinder sleep and watching certain shows can inadvertently encourage bad dreams. Encourage quiet play and activities that promote relaxation. Also, know that some kids are ‘just busy’ and don’t ever seem to relax and that’s okay. Don’t expect miracles! Offer your time, stick to your routine and don’t take things personally. Bedtime may not be textbook or even ‘good’ and that’s okay, as long as you stay in control. If you can stay calm, your child will eventually calm down enough for sleep and you’ll be one step ahead.
5. FIRM AND GENTLE APPROACH:
Stay firm and consistent when enforcing bedtime boundaries but also be gentle and fair. Toddlers will test limits but it’s important to gently guide them back to their routine if need be. You might need to step in and physically guide them. Your child does not need to be running crazily around the house just before bedtime. Avoid engaging in power struggles and pre-empt any bedtime issues by having realistic expectations and be prepared. Plan in advance what you will say and do if your child stalls at bedtime, cries for you to lie next to him or repeatedly gets out of bed. Follow through with your plan consistently with a gentle but firm approach. Expect push back. Understand that the tears that come during a nocturnal meltdown are simply an outward expression of your child’s frustration and tiredness. Your toddler needs to feel and express them. It’s good for your child to release these feelings. Your job is not to stop your child crying or to make your child happy. Your job is to support your child with firm and gentle guidance as they learn what is expected.
6. SLEEP FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT:
Ensure your toddler’s bedroom is conducive to sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using blackout blinds, white noise machines, or nightlights depending on your toddler’s preferences. Consider the age of your child and have realistic expectations about what is developmentally appropriate. Most children under the age of two and a half who have been moved into a bed will need a physical barrier on their bedroom door, such as a baby gate, or their door closed.
7. USE VISUAL CUES:
Visual cues can help toddlers (and all children) understand and follow bedtime rules. Use a visual schedule or a picture chart to outline your desired bedtime routine. This provides a clear sequence of activities, it helps your child know what to expect next and helps them feel safe and ready for sleep. Get your toddler involved and have your child check off each step as you progress through the routine. Your child will be more likely to ‘comply’ if he or she has had input in the process.
8. OFFER LIMITED CHOICES:
Toddlers appreciate having some control over their lives and this also makes them more likely to comply with parental requests. Offer limited choices within the bedtime routine such as selecting a bedtime story or picking out pyjamas. This empowers your child and gives them a sense of ownership and control, whilst still maintaining the boundaries you’ve set.
9. TALK LESS:
If your toddler tries to push your bedtime boundaries, there should be zero negotiation, pleading or explaining on your part. If your toddler repeatedly leaves their bed, you need to calmly guide your child back to bed without engaging. If you have to do this fifty times then that’s what needs to happen. Your child will eventually get the message that he needs to stay in bed and that you will follow through with what you say you will do. The more attention your child gets from you (positive or negative), the more your child will continue the behaviour.
10. WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE:
Stay calm and be conscious of how you speak to your toddler. When you give your child instructions, phrase them in the positive, not negative. Tell your child what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Instead of saying, “Don’t get out of bed”, say, “I want you to stay in your bed”. Young children don’t hear the word ‘don’t’. They just hear the rest of the sentence (‘get out of bed’). Use a clear, soothing yet firm and ‘matter of fact’ tone of voice when giving instructions. Never tell your toddler, “Go to sleep” as this can be cause for some anxiety. Going to sleep is too much of an abstract concept for young children and can it can be hard for a child to ‘make themselves do this’. Instead, tell your toddler to, “Lie down, close your eyes and be quiet like a mouse”. These are three simple things that are easy for any child to understand and achieve. Doing these things should naturally lead to sleep.
Establishing and enforcing bedtime boundaries takes time and patience. Be consistent, offer gentle reminders and provide reassurance. Stick to your boundaries, be firm and be consistent. With time, your toddler will adjust to the routine. Your child will come to understand where your boundaries lie and bedtime will become not only easy but enjoyable for all.
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