By Anneri van Rooyen – Good Night Sleep Consultant
Bedtime routines and rituals for children are key factors in the promotion of not only healthy sleep, but also of broad development and wellbeing in early childhood. Sleep has a profound impact on our children’s health and wellbeing, and it impacts multiple aspects of early childhood development and it is thus 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 ensure that the same routine and rituals are implemented every night. This ensures that our toddlers know what to expect, 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 over stimulated 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.
Give your toddler a choice
As many a mom 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 he/she is 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 do not want to go for a bath because then they miss out on all of the fun activities they could be participating in, so give them a choice, “are we going to bathe in bubbles tonight or with mister turtle?”
Good night rituals and story time
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 his/ her 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 is finished we will read a story.” This way, your toddler knows what to expect and where the parameters are.
Reading books together has such great value for their cognitive development, and it is a special time to be able to bond with your toddler. Once again, let your toddler have a choice between one or two stories to read, be sure to narrow down the choices not to be asleep before your toddler sleeps! Try to keep the setting as calm as possible, stick to reading at the same spot each night and do try to steer clear from stories that have monsters in the plot. Acting out a story is fun for daytime, but when it comes to bedtime, we want to be as relaxed as possible.
Lullabies and setting boundaries
Pick a favourite song to listen to every night which you can switch up every 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 he/ she has a “lovey” to sleep with, which can be any stuffed toy or a soft blanket to cuddle. If your toddler needs a little more time, stay five minutes with him/her but do make it clear that you will be leaving the room soon. Before you leave the room, tell your toddler what is happening and be sure to come check on him/ her 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 him/ her.
Make your toddler part of the reward process by letting him/her choose the reward that he/she will receive when he/she stays in bed for the whole night. Be sure to be consistent and to 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.
Iannelli, V (2020, Feb 3) Child bedtime routines Do’s and Don’ts. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/kids-and-bedtime-routines-2634260
[n.a, n.d] Best bedtime routines for toddlers. Retrieved from https://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/photo-gallery/best-bedtimes-routines-for-toddlers.aspx
Williamson, A and Mindell J (2017, Nov 6) Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587181/