I’m so excited to have our guest poster, Hadley, with us today because I know if there’s one thing all parents universally struggle with- it’s sleep!
Hadley is a certified sleep consultant who works with exhausted moms and dads across North America and Europe to get their kids’ sleep back on track.
The tips she provides below could not come at a better time for me, as we have seriously let our 2-year-old’s bedtime routine slide after all the summer traveling. As a mom who pretty fastidiously sleep trained her older two children, I can’t believe I’m laying with M every night until he falls asleep!
Needless to say, I’m putting these tips into effect ASAP…
I recently polled my clients about the most challenging part of their child’s sleep. The result was nearly unanimous: bedtime.
As one dad said to me, “I love my son… but I really, really hate his bedtime.” Another mom told me, “My daughter ends up in tears and I end up needing a large glass of wine.”
Why is bedtime so tough!? For starters, everyone involved is exhausted. Add in the fact that toddlers are volatile by nature and you have the ingredients for a perfect storm.
Finding a good bedtime routine is equal parts organization, laying down the law, and staying consistent. Toddlers love nothing more than to test their boundaries. What better time to do this than right before bed!? As a result, many of us get sucked into a vicious cycle of tearful, never-ending demands.
Does every night have to end in a power struggle? No! By streamlining and solidifying your child’s bedtime routine, you can get them into bed more quickly and still have energy afterwards to binge-watch Stranger Things or have a meaningful conversation with a fellow adult.
First Thing’s First: You’re in Charge
It’s easy to forget, but we’re the bedtime commanders and our children are the foot soldiers. (Yes, it’s a well-known fact that toddlers are smarter than their parents, but we’re bigger). We make the rules.
This is something with which I struggle at bedtime. My secret is to ask myself: what would daytime mom do? Would daytime mom give in to these delay tactics and shenanigans? NO! Daytime mom would lay down the law.
Just remember: You’re in charge, even at bedtime.
Time it Out
Look at your child’s bedtime: does it work for him? If he’s going crazy every night, then he’s probably overtired and you need to adjust.
A good bedtime is one where the child falls asleep easily and wakes up well-rested. (In my experience, almost every toddler should be in bed by 8pm. Most need an earlier bedtime, especially if they’re no longer napping).
Once you have a set bedtime, work backwards. How long does it realistically take to transition him from playtime to bedtime? At this age, it’s usually 20-30 minutes.
Families whose children are potty trained typically need more time, as toddlers will use this as a delay tactic. Since we can’t force them to pee, we have to build more time into the routine.
Once you’ve determined the length of the routine, set a nightly alarm for when you need to start the bedtime process. For example, if you want him in bed by 7:30pm and it takes 30 minutes, then you need to program an audible reminder at 7pm that it’s go time.
Audit Your Routine
Write down everything you currently do as part of the bedtime routine. Cross off anything that takes a lot of time and is unnecessary. The goal is to develop a consistent series of events that signal to your child that it’s time to wind down. Anything that doesn’t fit that description should be removed.
Your routine should be comprised of two components: non-negotiables (e.g., brushing teeth, one final trip to the potty) and extras (relaxing activities such as books and songs).
If you find that your routine consistently lasts longer than 45-minutes, remove some of the extras. This is bedtime, not an hour-long dramedy on the CW.
A note on bath time: There’s no unwritten rule that your child must bathe every night. If you struggle to get him to bed on time–or notice that bath time isn’t a relaxing experience for either of you–then consider moving it earlier in the day or bathing him less frequently. I mean, dirt is good for immune systems, right!?
Anticipate the “One More?” Requests
As you design your bedtime routine, determine in advance how many of each activity you want to do. Some families like to base it on quantity (e.g., read three books) and some prefer to base it on time (e.g., read books for 5 minutes).
Irrespective of which approach you choose, stick to it.
If sometimes you read 5 books and one day stop at 3, then your child will understandably (in his mind) become angry. It’s much easier to say, “but you know we read three books every night! And we’ve just finished the third one… On to the songs!”
Codify the Routine (and Clue in Your Toddler)
I fully support your decision to go from an hour-long power struggle to a lean, 30-minute routine. But you’ll need to explain to your toddler in advance that you will no longer be reading Bedtime for Peppa 50 times; otherwise, all hell will break loose.
For example, first we brush our teeth, then we put on our PJs, then we go to your room to sing three songs… etc. Let him decorate the chart and hang it in his room. Refer to it often in the early days and use it as a reference if the “one more!”s get out of control.
Go with the Flow
Set your bedtime routine in stone, but also be aware that it will need to change as your child gets older. Be on the lookout for components that may no longer work and brainstorm replacements. But don’t worry: you got this!
Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant who works with exhausted moms and dads.
Based in France, she helps parents across Europe and North America to get their children’s sleep back on track. Meet her + learn more at bonnenuitbaby.com.