“I asked him if he was hungry, and he said no. I asked him if he was sleepy, and he said no. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said no. So he’s sweeping.” This is a conversation Ross has with his ex after their 2-year-old son spends the weekend with Ross. Does it sound familiar? As the mom of 4 kids and a certified sleep consultant with training in behavior modification, I get so many questions about toddler sleep. Most parents come to me just convinced that if we can adjust their toddler’s schedule then they will sleep better. Don’t get me wrong, and a schedule is a huge deal for a toddler but not in the same way that it is for a baby. Making bedtime easier for your toddler can set a happy, secure tone around sleep in general.
Toddlers are growing and developing really fast, and as part of that development, they want to know where they fit in the world. What can they get away with? Who is in charge? Do you mean what you say? Setting firm, clear boundaries can help with bedtime, meal time, clothes changing time, and leaving the park time. Pretty much any and all time. Let me give you a few examples to make bedtime a little easier because, well, I am a sleep coach, and bedtime is my jam.
How to Transition Easily from Playtime to Bedtime
Toddlers struggle with transitioning from one activity to another, especially if the activity was enjoyable. Moving from playing to having a bath to brushing teeth and then reading stories and finally ending up in bed is cause for a huge meltdown because let’s face it all toddlers have a major case of FOMO. Going to bed means missing out. It means laying still alone in the dark and being quiet and no one under the age of 18 wants to do that so here are 5 things you can do to help your toddler transition more easily from playtime to bedtime and think it’s their idea.
Warnings- I do not mean this in a negative way. I simply mean give them a “heads up”. Ok Matthew in 5 minutes it’s going to be time to put away the legos. Suzy in 2 minutes, it will be time for a bath. Make sure they acknowledge that they heard you and connect with them around the upcoming transition.
Consistency- This is when the schedule comes into play. Toddlers thrive on schedules and routine. They have very little control over their world, routines allow them to feel secure and know what is expected of them.
Independence- Toddlers want to be independent, so let’s encourage them! Using a chart for bedtime or your daily routine and allowing them to check off each item as it’s completed will give them a sense of control and independence.
Fun- Transitions are generally resisted because of control and essentially a lack of fun. Putting away my legos to get ready for bed? Um no thank you. You can make the transition a game. Blast off to bath time like a rocket. Have a dance party down the hall. Walk backward to the bedroom for pj time. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just engaging.
Choices- Because toddlers lack so much control in their daily lives its important to give them choices whenever possible. But not too many choices. Too many choices is a recipe for a meltdown; limit it to two choices.
- Would you like bubbles or no bubbles in your bath?
- Do you want to wear the elephant jammies or the rocket jammies?
- Do you want to brush your teeth first or should I brush first
When feeling particularly obstinate my youngest would say “Milly chooses no” to every option I gave her. My response is, “no wasn’t one of your choices, you can choose, or I can choose. I’ll count to 5 and if you don’t make your choice then I will.” It took a few counts to 5 and a couple of meltdowns before she realized that choosing “no” wasn’t worth it.
Be consistent and hold your boundary, so you build credibility.
Easy Bedtime with a Toddler = Stress-Free Evening
Getting to a place where your toddler can go to bed struggle free feels like being let out of jail. It lessens anxiety and tension in the house and allows both parents and child to enjoy their time together. Putting a consistent routine in place with age-appropriate boundaries that you can be very clear about paves the way to a much happier evening. Will it be perfect every day? No but it can be managed with clear intentions and expectations.
Parenting is a huge puzzle. Getting all the pieces together can be overwhelming. I’m here to help. Set up a free call so we can get your evenings stress-free and bedtime enjoyable.