A toddler’s bedtime can be a calming routine for the whole family, or an amped-up struggle. Though it doesn’t always come easily, a smoother transition really is possible.
First, parents need to set the stage for serenity. A small child who’s been tearing up and down the hall or watching stimulating TV until just before s/he’s expected to sleep is at a serious disadvantage. They simply don’t have the self-regulation to change their own channels that easily.
Thinking about how attuned young children are to their senses can help you devise a routine to make bedtime easier. Consistency is your goal—a nightly pattern that doesn’t vary (even on vacation, as much as possible) will help de-frazzle everyone.
Dim the lights in living areas for half an hour before a toddler’s bedtime. Soft lighting helps cue them that evenings are for calmer activity. A night-light can also be reassuring. If your child fears monsters, start the tuck-in with a quick check of the closet and under the bed. (Yes, you have to check every night. Monsters have reliable timetables.)
Turn off TV well before bedtime, and play soft classical music with a slow beat instead. (Laugh tracks, adrenalin-pumping scores or screaming fans trigger toddlers to match that energy.) Though recorded music is a fixture in toddlers’ lives, there’s nothing more soothing than a parent reading a story and singing a favorite lullaby. Your soft, loving voice is the best sound they can hear.
Beyond a hug or backrub, there are other ways touch helps or sabotages toddlers’ sleep. A warm bath is calming (once the splashing’s done). Sensitive young skin can mean restlessness and difficulty getting to sleep if the child is wearing or sleeping on polyester blends. Avoid slippery synthetics for sleepwear and use organic bedding, too. Organic cotton softens with every wash and won’t expose your child to toxic residues. Use natural laundry detergents and skip fabric softener—it’s just more unnecessary chemicals that can irritate skin. Keeping the room cool helps, too.
Pleasing natural scents can help little ones drift off. Try an aromatherapy diffuser with lavender oil, or add a few drops to the child’s bath. Avoid fragranced soaps and bubbles—these chemicals irritate skin and lungs (and carry significant health risks over time). Air should be fresh just because the room is clean—”air fresheners” pollute. Allergy encasements help shield your child from breathing in allergens that trigger stuffiness and coughing. Launder bedding regularly to avoid musty smells that make the child’s room an unpleasant place to be.
Cool but not icy water is a good bedtime drink for toddlers, or lukewarm, non-caffeinated herbal tea. Sugary juice—even fruit juice—or any form of soda or other artificial beverage is too stimulating at bedtime (and does your child no favors during the day, either, nutritionists say).
A calming routine mindful of all five senses will help most toddlers adapt to a better bedtime. Chances are, your own evenings will become more peaceful, too.