Whether it’s a list of requests longer than Mariah Carey’s dressing room rider (water! A wee! Another story! Teddy!), tears or a full blown tantrum, it can feel like toddlers and children are masters of turning bedtime into a battle zone. And the timing couldn’t be worse – at the end of the day when the whole family is frazzled, energy is running low all round.
Try these top tips to transform bedtimes and bring some calm back to your household in the evenings.
1. Understand what is happening – for our toddlers and children, sleep challenges are actually much more about the emotional, habitual, behavioural and psychological factors compared with our littler babies. Knowing this can really help inform how we handle things and avoid making anything worse!
2. Keep it calm, mama – as parents, our calm and emotional regulation is so important, as without it our kids won’t calm down either. I love to make a HotTea Mama Night Owl tea for me and take deep breaths, and make my toddler a plain chamomile – she loves to help me stir! The ritual of making sleepy tea together ticks off the connection and routine boxes below and the tea is a lovely relaxing sleep prompt for both of us.
3. Little ones love control – it’s easy to forget our children don’t always have much autonomy and this can be a big reason they push back against bedtimes and try to assert their independence! By giving them more freedom and choice they don’t feel so much need to rebel (phew!). Can they choose which pyjamas to wear? A mug for their bedtime drink? Their toothbrush colour? Which bedtime book you read or song you sing?
4. Connection is key – it is easy to forget and sometimes it sounds too simple to be true, but bedtime really does represent a separation from us for our children, and so making sure we top up the love tank as much as possible with “special time” can be a real game changer. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, and don’t put pressure on yourself –
everyone is busy! Even just 15 minutes one to one connection time a day can work wonders! It’s ideal to keep this as a fun but calm activity before bed. Sticker books are a really popular choice. You can’t overdo this one either so if you have longer, go for it!
5. Communication – never under estimate the power of talking to our children about any upcoming changes to sleep, asking if anything is bothering them (nightmares, for example) and making very clear what will be happening at bedtime (if you only want to read two bedtime stories, be clear and consistent about this and hold the boundary!)
6. Be a routine Queen – it isn’t about rigid schedules that become unsustainable, but about creating consistency, rhythm and predictability for little ones. They feel safe and more in control when they know what is coming next, and following the same ritual or routine each night before bed helps clue them in that it’s time to sleep. Forming these lovely calming habits should reduce resistance longer term – it just becomes second nature, and the great news is it doesn’t need to be complicated. Switching the house to nighttime mode (pulling curtains, no screens), bath, book and bed are classics for a reason! I have a brand new children’s bedtime story book Megara’s Magic School: Bedtime Spell for Dragon Realms coming out in August 2022 inspired by tried and tested bedtime routines and incorporating a wonderful relaxing sleepy time tea to make bedtime feel magical and something to look forward to, while creating a calming and consistent ritual to help induce sleep, but you can create your own little rhythms at home and get creative – whatever works for you! Maybe it’s not sleepy tea, maybe lavender spray and a lullaby. Just remember to make it sustainable so you can be consistent.
7. Revisit your little one’s sleep needs – if toddlers are fighting bedtime it might be a sign they’re moving towards dropping that nap. If you think this is the case, it’s best to cap the nap and slowly reduce it down before losing it altogether. Once gone, you can encourage quiet time in its place.
8. Sleep environment and creating a positive connection to the sleep space – lots of room play, making the bedroom “their” space as much as possible (can they choose the decor or some art for the room?), removing any scary shadow casting objects, making sure the room is properly dark at night and an ideal temperature for sleep (16-20 degrees) are all simple but underestimated sleep foundations. Avoiding sending
little ones to their room as a punishment or time out is also really key to keep their association and connection to the space happy and positive. “Room parties” in the dark with fun music and glow sticks over a week can really help children bond with their bedroom and start loving the space! Sound bonkers? Honestly, it really works!
9. Rehearsal time! – practicing the bedtime routine and putting favourite cuddlies to bed (or even better let your kids be the parents and put you to bed!) is a great way to help toddlers and young children understand what is expected of them at bedtime.
10. Audit o clock: Nutrition, activity levels, screen time – if bedtime is becoming a nightmare it is a good time to do an audit of these things and ensure refined sugar is being cut down and not consumed too close to sleep time (ideally not after 4pm). Getting lots of physical activity throughout the day is always helpful, and minimising blue light from screen exposure is really important for the production of melatonin (our sleepy hormone!) It isn’t about being radical and banning things or extreme changes, just mindful tweaks to help support a smoother bedtime transition.
These are all simple things that sometimes get overlooked in our day to day rush, or they sound to easy to make an impact but honestly they can totally transform bedtimes for the whole family! You would be amazed at the number of families who find with just one or two of these changes alone, find bedtimes move from a chaos to calm.
Briony is a certified holistic infant sleep coach and author at @infantsleepclinic and also creator of the Certified Holistic Infant Sleep Specialist ProgrammeTM (@clubstrongmama x @csbusinessacademy). To find out more about getting holistic sleep support, email briony@infantsleepclinic or contact me on my website: https://www.infantsleepclinic.com/blog
If you’re interested to learn more about becoming a holistic infant sleep coach, grab the free masterclass here.