Best bedtime & nap time routines & rituals for toddlers

Bedtime routines and rituals for children are key factors in the promotion of not only healthy sleep, but also broad development and well-being in early childhood. Sleep has a profound impact on our children’s health and well-being, and it impacts multiple aspects of early childhood development. It is, therefore our responsibility to ensure that our toddlers get the rest that their developing bodies and minds need. How do we go about implementing routines and rituals to ensure that our toddlers willingly go to bed?

Consistency and warm baths

The best place to start is to implement the same routine and rituals every night. This ensures that our toddlers know what to expect and what is happening next, and it also cues their brain that sleep is coming. A good, relaxing activity to do before bedtime, is to start with a relaxing bath. Bathing with essential oils and minerals helps to relax their bodies.

The temperature difference that their bodies experience causes a spike in melatonin – the hormone that helps us sleep – so the trick is to get that busy body into bed as soon as bath time is over and pyjamas are on! Keeping bath time fairly short is important so that your child is not overstimulated and excited. It is also important to keep in mind that bedwetting can occur at this age, so if you are potty training, it is important to remind and help your little one use the bathroom one last time before going to bed.

Toddler sitting in bath with foamy bubbles

Give your toddler a choice

As many mommies would agree, toddlers do not like the feeling of being bossed around. Experiment with making your toddler part of the decision-making process when it comes to the bedtime journey so that they feel that they are in control.

A simple example of this would be to give your toddler a choice between choosing pyjamas; you are setting boundaries in saying that your toddler is going to dress, but you are giving your toddler a choice in which colour pyjamas they are going to wear and the same goes for what toys they play with at bath time.

Toddlers enjoy their playtime and, more often than not, they don’t want to go for a bath for fear of missing out on all of the fun activities they could be participating in. Give them a choice: “Are we going to bathe in bubbles tonight or with mister turtle?”

“If your toddler needs a little more time, stay five minutes with them but make it clear that you will be leaving the room soon.”

Good night rituals and storytime

After successfully bathing and dressing, it is time to move to the bedroom. Toddlers love to ease into their room, so a good idea is to help your toddler say goodnight to all the important objects in their room. They can say goodnight to family members but we do not want this exercise to turn into a lengthy affair. Be sure to set the rules and expectations from the start, by saying, “We are going to say goodnight to Daddy, Teddy and the moon and after this, we will read a story.” This way, your toddler knows what to expect and where the parameters are.

Reading books together is great for their cognitive development and it is a special time to bond with your toddler. Let your toddler choose between one or two stories. Try to keep the setting as calm as possible, stick to reading at the same spot each night and steer clear from stories that have elements that might scare your child, such as monsters. Acting out a story is fun for daytime, but when it comes to bedtime, we want to be as relaxed as possible.

Mom reading to toddler under bed sheet

Lullabies and setting boundaries

Pick a favourite song to listen to every night which you can switch up now and then. This is a great time to have a cuddle and to sing or listen to your song or lullaby. After listening to your song, give your toddler a big hug and a kiss and make sure that they have a “lovey” to sleep with, which can be any stuffed toy or soft blanket.

If your toddler needs a little more time, stay five minutes with them but make it clear that you will be leaving the room soon. Before you leave the room, tell your toddler what is happening and come check on them if you told your toddler that you will be checking in. The charm in this is to be as consistent as possible, to keep checking in and before you know it, your toddler will be fast asleep. If your toddler has a problem staying in bed, set clear boundaries and make a reward chart for them.

Rewards

Make your toddler part of the reward process by letting them choose the reward that they will receive when they stay in bed for the whole night. Be consistent and reward good behaviour, as every child flourishes with positive reinforcement. If this is done consistently, you will see a difference in behaviour sooner rather than later.

By Jolandi Becker – MD Good Night. Article references available on request.