Helping your toddler with bedtime routines

Alex O'Donoghue

Written by Alex O'Donoghue

10 tips to help your child go to bed more easily.

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Bedtime can be a dreaded daily moment for parents. The most common problems are little children struggling to fall asleep or resisting bedtime entirely (cue: big meltdown!). Here are ten tips to support parents.

  1. Read books! Reading before bedtime is not just about the developmental milestones of language development and cognition. Reading strengthens a child-parent relationship and allows a child to ask questions and explores feelings through imagination. You will notice your child has an innate ability to select books which bring security and comfort, and will want them read on repeat.

  2. Keep bedtime routines and going to sleep time consistent, even on weekends and through summer evenings. Children thrive through the security and safety offered by  repetition and will start associating sleepiness with certain daily moments. Although lockdown life is very different, new routines are important for children to manage the 'new normal'.

  3. Help your child to wind down, by starting bedtime routines approximately one hour before sleep time. This routine should be relaxing, and have the same activities day in, day out. Bathtime or showertime, brushing teeth, a book and a cuddle.

  4. Help your child cope with nightly separation from you with a bedtime comfort, like a toy substitute, that you dress up together. This might be having a teddy bear or other animal with something of yours on it, like a scarf. This teddy bear can appear during bedtime routines.

  5. The major issues at bedtime is usually fear of the unknown and of being alone - validate your child’s feelings and offer comforting words. Different tricks work for different children, such as promising to check on them before you yourself go to sleep or returning and staying at the bedroom door regularly.

  6. Listen to your child’s level of distress. Crying has different tones and only you will know when to intervene. It is impossible to prevent some kind of night time upset, and children can ride it out. Hysteria, however, ramps up stress and only leaves a child more frightened. Get to know what your little one needs and don’t be afraid to bend the rules when it's needed.

  7. Avoid the “they’ll sleep if I let them get really tired” approach. Interestingly, if children get overtired, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released which make it tougher to fall and stay asleep. 

  8. Support better sleep cycles, by exposing your child to bright light and energised activity in the morning and afternoon, and start dimming lights, screens and slowing down before bedtime. Your child’s body, like yours, is naturally wired to respond to the rhythms of light and dark, which correspond to activity and sleep. 

  9. Stress during the day can raise stress hormone (cortisol) levels at night, making kids feel too alert to sleep. Your child might be mirroring your own stress, feel threatened by new siblings or simply activated by constant bad news playing in the background. Even if daytime is tough, set your child’s bedroom routine up to be as relaxing as possible. The most powerful antidote? Loving time and attention with a parent or carer! 

  10. Be consistent in your approach and comfortable to set limits. Although toddlers will fight back, remember it is their job to push boundaries. They still like and need someone to be in charge. Whatever your stance on sleep, keep it consistent and kind.

Some parents luck out and have a child who just does not sleep well and others have babies who sleep through the night from day one. Just as some adults struggle with insomnia, children can be very similar! Keep experimenting with what works for you and your child, and seek advice from people or professionals whose parenting approach you trust and like. And avoid moms whose children sleep perfectly!

While you're here, why not take a helping hand? We're offering EasyPeasy's games and activities (proven to help your little one's development) for free during lockdown. Click the button below to sign up.

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