As a Dad, it’s easy to feel a little left out when it comes to the parenting of young children. One of the most challenging situations, I had to realize for myself, was to figure out how to get your toddler to sleep in the evening. Without spending HOURS at his bedside.
Many families are still running a somewhat “classic” family model: While Mom stays at home and takes care of the kids (which is a great job! Moms, you’re awesome!!!) or works part-time, Dad goes to the office working his 9 to 5 job. That means that we as Dad often are challenged by situations our partners handle with ease. I get that! I’ve been there many times!
Luckily, many things have changed since the 60s, 70s, and 80s: More and more Dads WANT to be more involved in parenting! That’s great! And often challenging 🙂
Hi! I am Chris, and in the first two years after my son Benni was born, I was a Stay At Home Dad. I faced all those challenges. While it wasn’t always easy, I think I have developed quite a few techniques to stay on top and survive as a Stay At Home Dad.
In this blog post, I want to share with you a few of the strategies that worked quite well for ME when I try to get Benni to sleep…
Key Points in How to Get your Toddler to Sleep
Bedtime is the perfect time to build a strong bond with your toddler. It’s also helpful for taking the strain off of Mom for a while. Which could reap its own reward!
But what are the right (and wrong) things to do at bedtime? Just how do you get your toddler to sleep? It can sometimes seem like a bit of a challenge. So here we have a survival guide, especially for us Dads. Although, sharing it with Mom is a great idea too!
- Routine, routine, routine
- Snacks and drinks
- Take your time
- Avoid stimulation and encourage relaxation
- Soothing bath time
- Toddler autonomy
- Reflective talk
- Avoiding temptation
Kids like routine. They like the familiar and knowing what will happen. Routine is comforting and makes them feel secure. It’s also important for learning good habits.
By using the same bedtime routine every day, your child always knows what to expect. It helps them to relax and accept the situation. It’s important that no matter who puts your toddler to bed, they keep to the routine.
But what is a good bedtime routine?
First let’s look at some basics, like what type of environment is most relaxing for your toddler.
It’s always a good idea to think about how you feel when trying to get to sleep. It’s hard if you’re too hot or too cold right? So to make sure your little one feels just right, try to keep the room around 68° and use appropriate nightwear and bed coverings for the season.
Darkness is really important for sleep. We are naturally designed to function in line with daylight. During the evening, light levels gradually fade after sunset until it becomes dark. Then, in the morning, they brighten again as the sun rises. This is really important for our circadian rhythm or natural internal clock. The gradual lowering of light releases sleep hormones in our brains, allowing us to fall naturally to sleep. As daylight approaches, these hormones diminish and we gradually awaken.
Unfortunately, artificial lights and particularly light emitted by screens such as TVs, computers, tablets, cell phones and backlit displays on things like stereos and even some alarm clocks can affect this natural rhythm. Try working with your child’s natural circadian rhythm and switch off all screens at least one hour before bedtime. You can also reduce artificial light in the house by using a lamp with a lower powered bulb instead of the main room lights.
In your child’s room, make sure all toys can easily be cleared away out of sight. Use soft inviting furnishings, rugs and bed coverings as these help to absorb sounds, making the room quieter. Use heavy drapes that limit any light coming in from outside, particularly in the summertime when it’s still daylight when your child goes to bed.
It can be hard to know just how much sleep a child needs. As a rule of thumb, a toddler needs 1 to 3 naps a day of 90 minutes or less. A longer nap can result in crankiness or interfere with nighttime sleep. Let your toddler give you the cue for when they need to nap, watch out for eye rubbing, yawning, thumb sucking, etc. As they get older, they’ll need fewer naps until eventually, no daytime napping is necessary.
Don’t allow toddlers to nap after 4 p.m. as this is likely to make putting them to bed at night more difficult. Trust me: Just on our last vacation we ran into this trap and it turned out to be a nightmare! It took our son until 11 p.m. to fall at sleep that evening.
A child needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night. Decide on a bedtime and stick to it, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. is normal. This isn’t the time you start putting them to bed, but the time you leave the room for them to go to sleep. Remember the earlier they go to sleep the earlier they will wake up.
Snacks and drinks
It’s never a good idea to fill your toddler full of sugary sweet snacks and drinks right before bedtime. Depending on when they have their evening meal, try to give a small high carbohydrate snack an hour before bedtime. At the same time, offer a drink of milk or water. This will help stop them from requesting snacks and drinks when it’s time for sleep. It has been shown that by giving them a snack an hour before bed they sleep better.
Take your time
Don’t try and rush bedtime, cherish it. Your toddler will be a teenager before you blink, so make the most of the precious time you have with them. The bedtime routine should take an hour or more and it isn’t something you can do in five minutes.
By spending the time now and establishing good habits, your little one will learn to enjoy going to bed. Many bedtime issues are caused by parents not taking the time it needs to properly prepare their toddler for sleep.
After story time, I still feel the urge to leave the room quite often. There is still so much to do: Clean up the living room, clearing out the dishwasher etc. – But take your time, it WILL pay off. Bedtime is mind, body and soul time for you and your kids. Make sure to be there for them, not just physically but also mentally. I know it’s hard! But it’s worth it.
Avoid Stimulation and Encourage Relaxation
I know I find it hard not to play Superhero with Benni in the evening. But keep in mind that all stimuli are negative before bedtime. The idea is to create a calm, soothing environment that has little to no stimulation in it. To achieve this, get your child to help you clear away toys and do something relaxing in the evening. This could include listening to soothing music, drawing, cuddle time and so on.
Soothing Bath Time
In the hour before sleep time give your toddler a relaxing bath. Using a lavender bedtime bubble bath can help. The warm water relaxes your child and will help them sleep better.
Let your child choose which pajamas to wear, the story you read to them and the comforter they want. This helps develop your toddler’s independence and by making their own choices, they learn about doing things for themselves.
Here’s what works best for Benni and me: I like to give Benni just TWO options: I would let him choose between red and blue pajamas, for example. That leaves him with the feeling that he made a meaningful decision, without us standing in front of his dresser for 15 minutes, going through ALL his clothes and thus creating tons of distractions and stimuli.
Once your toddler is ready for bed, take a few minutes to give them a cuddle and reflect on the happenings of the day. If your child is old enough, ask them to tell you about it themselves. This helps them process their day and compartmentalize it.
Reading a bedtime story just before your little one goes to sleep is beneficial in lots of ways. I often find my own son Benni has fallen asleep before I have even finished reading.
It also gives kids a natural desire to read for themselves and often promotes a healthy love of reading and appreciation for learning. Reading a bedtime story should continue long after your child is a toddler until they start reading their bedtime story to you.
I have written a whole article on the benefits of reading to young children over here! If you are interested in some background information, please make sure to check it out.
It is all too easy to be tempted to give in to a child who is continually demanding your attention after you have put them to bed. I’ve fallen victim to this MANY times!
Toddlers don’t want to go to bed for two main reasons: one, they think they are going to miss out and two, they get separation anxiety as they feel safe when they are with you.
If your toddler keeps calling you after going to bed, don’t give in to their demands.
Simply go to them quietly without turning on the light, sit next to the bed, hold their hand or stroke their hair, don’t make eye contact and don’t talk. Because you are not engaging with them, only soothing them, they quickly give up on their quest for your attention. Don’t be tempted to bring your toddler into your own bed or give him extra drinks or snacks or read any more stories, etc. All of these things are attention tactics and once established will become habitual.
This is one tip that one of my visitors, Marita, mentioned in the comments below and I certainly wanted to add to this list as well. One thing you can add to your bedtime routine as well would be praying. Some kids enjoy it, some don’t. It’s certainly worth a try! Religion and praying is a highly personal issue, so I don’t want to spend too much time giving advice here. You probably know what works best for you and your family!
If you, however, are not a religious person at all, then maybe you would like to add some time of reflective talk (as discussed above). Or you may want to encourage your kid to come up with one thing that happened today that he (or maybe even you as a family) can be thankful for.
Praying or being thankful can be a great “roundup” for the day and help your kid fall asleep faster!
There is no magic pill, but…
There are literally tons of things that can make your life harder when it comes down to getting your toddler to sleep. I know that first hand: Just one wrong move and your toddler is awake again and you can start all over, right?
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will suddenly fix all of your bedtime blues related issues. But there is something quite close to it: Luckily, there are proven strategies to handle the situation while staying calm and thus contributing to your family life (and your OWN health) in a positive way.
Just recently I have published a review of Amy McCready’s online course “Positive Parenting Solutions”. Amy has dedicated an entire “Specialty Module” (I explain what that is in my review) to the topic of Bedtime Blues – and how to solve ALL the issues you may probably have. I highly recommend checking it out. If you want to learn more, please make sure to read my full review over here.
As we’ve seen, forming a good solid routine right from the start is the best way to establish good bedtime habits. If you’ve really tried doing this and find that no matter what, your toddler just won’t settle at night, or has night terrors, etc. ask for professional help.
If you have anything to add to this story, please leave a comment below. What are your most successful strategies in order to get your toddler to sleep? Did you try the concepts I have suggested above? How do they work for you and your family? Did I forget something? Do you have any suggestions you would like me to add to the list above? If so, please reach out and let me know!
Have a great day and a quiet night!
Thanks for reading
P.S.: Did you ever ask yourself how to put an end to all those exhausting power struggles that can stand between our kids and us as moms or dads? If so, then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of “Positive Parenting Solutions” HERE. You won’t regret it! I promise!!!