Inside: Toddler bedtime routine too long? Or your toddler fights bedtime? How to create a kids’ bedtime routine that doesn’t take forever and gets cooperation. Post contains affiliate links in which I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase.
As a child, you probably remember your parents saying something like, “You better get back to bed or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Or maybe they said, “Don’t make me count to three – or else.”
Or they just shut the bedroom door and went out the back porch to drink a Coke while you hid under the covers.
You distinctly remember dutifully obeying your parents (you never wanted to learn what happened after 1, 2, 3…), and for the life of donuts, you cannot understand why bedtime is such a sticking point between you and your child.
How to create a toddler bedtime routine that doesn’t take forever and gets cooperation.
Over the past several years, we’ve experienced a lot of sleep challenges with our daughter staying in her room, moving along through a bedtime routine, as well as dealing with a lot of fears at bedtime.
My son was relatively easy once we got him through the baby won’t sleep stage. So when we tried the exact same toddler parenting techniques with our daughter and were still having a lot of problems, I was stumped.
And frustrated and exhausted.
We’ve worked through it all. Lots of ups and downs. I come to share the knowledge 🙂 We successfully learned to help our toddler move through a bedtime routine quickly, stop fighting bedtime and go to sleep happy.
Before you do anything, frame your REAL boundaries, and create clear expectations.
If you feel like you have a controlling child or your child keeps getting out of bed or there’s a lot of tantrums at bedtime, then it’s imperative that you think about what your REAL boundary is in the bedtime routine situation.
- Is your boundary that you want adult time?
- Maybe your boundary that your child gets a good night’s sleep?
- Is your rule that your child stays in their room?
- Is your rule that your child is their room by a certain time?
Write your limits down that you’re not willing to flex on – these are your WALLS. They don’t flex or budge.
Once you know your BOUNDARIES, there are a million ways to problem-solve around that using RULES and help you and your child have a win-win bedtime situation.
(See the difference between boundaries and rules in why setting limits with your strong-willed child isn’t working.)
You’ll feel less triggered (less yelling) and your child will feel more cooperative.
Since many parents ask what our bedtime rules and boundaries are, I’ll run you through our kids’ bedtime routine…
Step-by-step through our toddler bedtime routine.
These strategies also work fantastic with toddler, preschooler and school-aged kids. Our kids are older now and we still do the same routine.
1. Kids start and finish their bedtime routine in about 30 minutes.
We have them start around 6:30 pm and they need to be finished with routines by about 7:00 pm. Depending on your daily schedule with kids, move the start time up or down to meet your needs.
That means, I back track what time to start the routine, knowing what time I want them to finish.
Since younger kids are not mature enough at all to handle time management, we help them by…
- Using a bedtime routine chart
- Playing games
- Using reminders to help them stay on task and move things along
On a typical weeknight, the kids’ bedtime routine takes 30 minutes or less goes like this…
- Skip the bath | Saves time; makes for a quicker routine. Kids get a bath or shower 2x per week, and you can move this to the afternoon if needed. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends 1-2x per week for tons of science-based reasons.
- Pajamas | Let the kids pick them out. Be willing to play a silly game to get them on. For a faster routine, just let the kids sleep in clothes for the next day 🙂 It’s a toddler, so PJs and clothes are basically the same thing. If they want to sleep in only underwear, it’s an option I’m willing to keep on the table as well.
- Bedtime snack | This helps stave off the 5 am hungry tummy wake up. Something quick and healthy does the trick. Offer choices and let the kids pick. If you eat dinner right before the bedtime routine, skip this step and viola your routine is faster.
- Bedtime Stories | Let the kids pick the book, you pick the number of books. If reading books before bedtime is creating high drama, don’t be afraid to move reading to your child to the afternoon, during dinner or another time that works for you.
- Brush teeth | Let the kids decide if they want to do it themselves or have you help. This puts kids in the lead, but gets the job done. If you’re having a lot of teeth brushing battles, get this Bopopo Electric Brush for kids and it pretty much eliminates any fights over teeth brushing.
- Up to bedrooms for quiet time (not sleep) | This is – by far- the most helpful and motivating strategy for kids to want to move through a bedtime routine quickly because they get to play afterward! It’s also a very helpful strategy to stop kids from coming out of their rooms. See below for details.
2. They are allowed to play with quiet toys and dim lights in their rooms until approx. 7:45 pm.
If the kids need more rest, I will regularly bump this back to 7:30 pm. It’s my favorite bedtime for a toddler sleep schedule. Lately, I’ve been letting them stay up 15 minutes later, and they are doing fine.
This strategy ends the “I hate sleep battle” and “I just want to play and have fun battle” and it helps kids wind down alone with some quiet play.
It also keeps kids in their rooms and prevents them from coming out incessantly asking for little things that you know are simple excuses to stay awake.
By not forcing the kids to fall asleep immediately after entering their rooms, and backing up the time to include quiet time, my husband and I are able to get an extra 45 minutes of chill time each evening without the kids around.
Parenting Hack #1 >>> Kids are allowed to come out of their room ONE TIME for something (be it water, hug, stuffed animal, etc.)
Parenting Hack #2 >>> If you have a child who hates playing alone (that’s my daughter), we started allowing the kids to play together in one bedroom and that solved it. Despite fighting regularly throughout the day, the siblings get along fantastic (probably because they know if they argue, they’ll have to sleep).
3. Good night. Lights out by 8:00 pm max.
We are willing to check on the kids every 15-20 minutes until they are asleep. Not every child needs this, but if your child is afraid to sleep alone or comes out of their rooms a lot, this is usually about wanting to connect with you.
(Stuffed animals are a great option to comfort a child between checks)
So instead of them coming out of their room to connect with you, you’re flipping the situation and going up to their room to connect with them.
When you lay your child down, tell them you will come back to check on them and ask them in how many minutes you should return.
You can even present it like this: “Should I come back in 5 minutes or 10 minutes?” The goal is to build trust and gradually increase the number of minutes in which you’re returning. Checks are a brief 1-2 minutes. Your confidence when you leave the room helps the child know that you believe they can handle this.
Here’s why it works:
- It offers kids a lot of reassurance and helps them know they will connect with you again.
- Kids feel a sense of power and control by deciding the number of minutes, but you keep the ultimate boundary of kids staying in bed.
- Each time you return, you get to mention how well your child stayed in bed. Naming this as a STRENGTH helps them to see they are capable of self-control, waiting and staying patient, and the child’s future actions are based out of these traits. The child can see this in themselves vs. as a child who never stays in bed.
- Eventually, you can eliminate the checks altogether and your child goes off to sleep peacefully and without a fight.
What to do when your child wakes in the middle of the night.
Parents always ask me this question and the answer is, it depends on your boundary 🙂
- You can go sleep in the child’s room (get a bigger bed so you’re comfy).
- The child can sleep in your bed (my least favorite option).
- The child can sleep on a small mattress on the floor in your room (we’ve used a crib mattress in the past).
- You can offer a cuddle and take the child back to bed, offering checks if needed for comfort. Ideally the checks will decrease over time to zero or you can skip them altogether.
You have to decide what you are OK with and then work backward from there. Believe me when I say I’ve tried all of the options.
At certain points in time, getting enough sleep yourself is more important than the principle of your child sleeping in their own bed. When I was feeling most rested, we worked on taking our kids back to bed consistently over a 1-2 week period and this usually resolved any issues.
You want your child to get enough sleep to function well throughout the day, you want to get enough sleep and you also want some evening time to focus on yourself without the kids around all the time.
Creating a toddler bedtime routine that you feel good about starts with honoring those boundaries and flexing on the rules that get you there.
More resources and ideas for toddler sleep:
- How to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
- How to Put a Toddler to Sleep Fast
- 3 Tricks for When Your Toddler Keeps Getting Out of Bed
- 7 Strategies for Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime
- 2 Year Old Sleep Regression Explained! Why It Happens and How to Fix It
- 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule That Helps Everyone Get More Sleep
- An Easy Morning & Bedtime Routine Chart That Keeps Kids On Task
- More 1 Year Old Sleep Schedules From Parents