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Transform Your Evening with These Best Bedtime Routines for Toddlers



best bedtime routines for toddlers - young girl with messy blonde hair, wearing pajamas

Hey there, fellow moms! Today, we're diving into a topic that’s as tricky as finding a matching pair of socks on laundry day: bedtime. Ah yes, that fun hour when our sweet darlings sprout boundless energy and become bedtime escape artists. They dodge their pillows like they’re in a game of tag, and we find ourselves wishing we had the energy to keep up. Our little ones may shoot for the stars, but all we’re shooting for is a little peace and quiet.

So, let’s tackle the best bedtime routines for toddlers together because, between us, getting our tiny humans to drift off to dreamland can feel more complex than assembling a space shuttle with a toy screwdriver. But don't worry, we've got this! Let’s turn those bedtime blues into a dreamy pink with a sprinkle of stardust on top. Ready to get those wiggly bundles of joy snuggled in their beds? Great, because it’s time to transform "lights out" from a battle cry to a blissful sigh.


Best Bedtime Routines for Toddlers: A Step-by-Step Guide for Restful Nights

best bedtime routines for toddlers - young girls resting her head on a pillow

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1. Countdown to Dreamland

Starting a countdown to bedtime is like giving your toddler a heads-up that playtime is about to close for the night. About an hour before, start the "closing ceremony" by turning off the TV and saying bye-bye to those peppy cartoon characters. Lower the lights, close the curtains, and maybe even say "goodnight" to some of the toys. It's like giving your little one their own starring role in the 'Goodnight Moon' book!

Dinner Signals Downtime

When dinner plates hit the table, let it be the first whisper of "bedtime’s coming." Keep the mood mellow, and maybe chat about what dreams might visit tonight. Are we going dinosaur exploring? Or maybe we're going to be underwater adventurers? Let their imaginations start to drift toward Dreamland.

Lower the Lights

Twilight is nature’s way of saying "slow down," so mimic the sunset in your home. As the evening gets darker, dim the lights. It's like setting the stage for sleep. Your little one's body will catch on and start to think, "Oh, it's not playtime; it's almost closing time."

Quiet Time Activities

Start swapping those rowdy run-around games for quiet time activities. Puzzle pieces and coloring books become the stars of the show. These activities don’t just dial down the energy; they help fine-tune those motor skills (pretty neat bonus, huh?).

The Final Countdown

When the clock says it's an hour before bed, that's when your official countdown begins. Give gentle reminders as minutes tick by. "In thirty minutes, we'll brush our teeth." "In twenty minutes, we'll put on our PJs." It’s like those little pop-up notifications on your phone, but for kiddo activities.

Consistency is Key

The real magic trick here is doing this every night. It’s like baking cookies - you follow the same recipe to get the same delicious treats. With enough repetition, just saying "it's almost bedtime" will have your tots yawning (we hope!).

Flexibility Within the Framework

Sure, we want to stick to the plan, but sometimes life throws a curveball. Maybe there's a family call, or someone's favorite teddy bear decided to play hide and seek. It’s okay to bend the routine a little – as long as the general path to bed is the same.


2. Bath Time Splash and Giggle

Alright, let's make a splash with our second step - because sometimes the bridge to Bedtime Island is built with soap bubbles and rubber duckies. Bath time isn't just about getting the dirt off after a day of heroic toddler adventures; it's a key player in our bedtime routine.

Here’s how to turn the tub into a pre-bed paradise:

Warm Water Wonders

Warm water is like a cozy blanket for our muscles. It tells our little ones' bodies to start relaxing. But keep it fun – this isn't a spa (although we moms might dream about that). Bring out the bath toys, and let's set sail on the SS Bathtub. Who knows what mystical lands you and your mini captain might discover?

Bubbles and Laughter

Bubble bath isn't just for making beards and funny hairdos (although those are a hoot). Popping bubbles is practically a sport for toddlers. It's all the fun of playtime with the bonus of getting clean. Win-win!

Splish-Splash Learning

Bath time is also a secret school. We're counting ducks, naming colors, and learning not to squirt water into our own eyes (still working on that one). Every moment can be a teaching moment – even when you're elbow-deep in suds.

Rituals and Routines

Make certain things a bath time ritual. Maybe there's a special song you sing only during bath time or a game of "find the hidden toy" beneath the bubbles. This special routine makes bath time something your toddler looks forward to and signifies the transition from daytime fun to nighttime rest.

Wash Away the Wiggles

Use this time to literally wash away your toddler's leftover energy. Encourage some last-minute wiggles and splashes (not too much, or you’ll be mopping the bathroom floor). This helps ensure that by the time they're dried off and in their PJs, those wiggles have waved goodbye.

Towel Cuddle Time

After the bath, wrap your little one in a warm, fluffy towel. It’s like a snuggle from a friendly bear (not the wild ones, the cuddly storybook kind). A quick cuddle while they're all wrapped up can be calming and comforting, signaling that bath time is over and we’re one step closer to bedtime.

Safety First!

While we're all about the giggles, let's not forget to keep those little ducks in a row with safety. Never leave a toddler alone in the bath, not even for a second. Keep one hand on your mini-bather if you need to reach for something. Safety is the life jacket for our splashy fun.

Bath time, done right, is the perfect prelude to bedtime. It’s like we’re giving our kids a warm hug from the inside out, and who wouldn’t want to curl up after that? Plus, let’s be real, there’s nothing cuter than a toddler in a hooded animal towel!


3. Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth

Now, onto the wild west of bedtime routines: the bathroom sink. Here’s where we take on the toothpaste challenge and get those pearly whites shining. It’s not just about dental health—it’s about wrangling those sugar bugs into submission and setting the stage for sweet dreams, not cavities.

Here’s your six-point plan to master the art of toddler tooth brushing:

Make It a Game

Who says brushing can't be fun? Pretend you're on a treasure hunt for hidden plaque-pirates, and the toothbrush is your map. Every swipe and brush gets you closer to the treasure—a sparkling clean smile.

Two-Minute Timer

Two minutes is the magic number for brushing, but for a toddler, that can seem like forever. Use a sand timer or play a short song to make those two minutes fly by. Before you know it, they'll be rinsing and spitting like a champ.

Brush Together

Monkey see, monkey do. If they see you brushing your teeth and having a good time doing it, they'll want to join in. So, grab your toothbrushes and make it a family affair. Who knows? You might even get dad to floss.

Let Them Lead

Give your little one some control. Let them put the toothpaste on the brush (with help, if needed) and let them start the brushing. Then, you can swoop in for the "detail work," making sure every tooth gets attention.

Celebrate the Clean

Once those teeth are brushed, celebrate! Do a little dance, high five, or look in the mirror and practice those shiny-toothed grins. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in making tooth brushing something they’ll want to do.

The Right Tools

Invest in a fun toothbrush—one with their favorite cartoon character or in their favorite color. And don't forget to choose kid-friendly toothpaste. If they like the flavor, they're more likely to enjoy brushing.

Brushing teeth might seem like a small part of the bedtime routine, but it’s a big victory in the grand scheme of toddler taming. Not only does it keep those chompers healthy, but it also signals to your little one that playtime is over, and the quiet time of night is near.

So, next time you're at the sink, toothbrush in hand, ready to face off with a toddler who has the mouth-closing power of a clam, remember: you're not just cleaning teeth, you're setting the stage for a peaceful night. And that, my fellow toothbrush-dueling warrior, is something worth brushing for.


4. Potty Time: The Pre-Sleep Pit Stop

Let's talk about a little thing I like to call the "pre-sleep pit stop." If you've ever had your toddler do the "I don't need to go" dance right before bed, only to hear the "Mommy, I gotta pee!" holler fifteen minutes after lights out, you know what I'm talking about. Getting your toddler to use the potty before bed can be as crucial as finding their favorite stuffed animal for snuggle time.

Here’s the lowdown on weaving potty time into the best bedtime routines for toddlers:

Make It Routine, Not a Race

Include a bathroom break in the bedtime routine as non-negotiable as brushing teeth. Make it as regular as the moonrise. Consistency helps your toddler understand that this is just another step towards the land of dreams.

Keep the Pressure Off

We’re going for calm and chill vibes here, not a timed toilet trial. Keep it light and pressure-free. This isn't the time to stress about whether they’re actually going or just sitting there contemplating the meaning of bubble bath.

Praise and Encouragement

Cheer on their efforts, even if the result is just a few drips. Celebrating the small successes can reinforce their good behavior and motivate them for future nighttime bathroom breaks.

Last Call for Water

To minimize the chances of a midnight wake-up call, limit the amount of liquids your toddler drinks close to bedtime. Think of it like the last call at a cafe—enough to quench their thirst but not so much that their little bladders can’t hold till morning.

Nightlight Navigation

A soft light leading to the bathroom can help. It’s like a runway for tiny tots that need to make a nighttime landing. This makes them feel safer if they do need to go in the middle of the night.

Celebrate the Dry Nights

When they wake up dry, it's like hitting the jackpot on the kid’s casino of sleep. Make a big deal out of it! A little praise in the morning for staying dry can go a long way.

Handle Accidents with Care

Accidents will happen. When they do, remember, it's not a step back, just a slip on the way forward. Keep extra sheets handy and reassure your toddler that it's okay—we’re all learning here.

Incorporating potty time before bed in vital in the sleep department. It’s about setting them up for a night where the only thing they need to let loose are their dreams. So, let's embrace this pit stop as part of our bedtime pit crew’s routine, and here's to fewer "I need to go" nighttime cameos!


5. Pajama Drama No More

We've all had that PJ tug-of-war, haven't we? But here's the trick: let your little star choose their nighttime outfit. Sure, they might pair polka dots with stripes in a way that would make a fashion designer cry, but hey, it's not a fashion show - it's bedtime!

Here's how to hang up the drama and put on the PJs with peace:

PJs They Love

Let's face it, we all love wearing something we feel good in, and toddlers are no different. If they have pajamas with their favorite characters or in their favorite color, slipping into them becomes as exciting as getting into a costume. Allow them to pick their nightwear from a couple of options - it's like choosing their superhero outfit for the dream world.

Warm and Cozy or Cool and Breezy

Some like it hot, and some like it not. Make sure their PJs are season-appropriate. You wouldn’t want to wear a snowsuit to the beach, right? Well, your little one doesn’t want to wear fleece when it's warm or a thin tee when it's chilly. Comfort is key to the door of Sleepyville.

The "Get Ready" Race

Who doesn't love a good race? Challenge your toddler to a "getting ready for bed" race. You can put on your comfy clothes while they put on their PJs. Ready, set, go! But here's the twist - everyone wins in this race. Celebrate with a tickle or a cozy hug when both of you are ready for bed.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Like the chorus of their favorite song, the more familiar it is, the more they'll get into it. Make putting on PJs a predictable part of the evening. It's not just about the clothes; it's about the signal that it's almost time for stories, cuddles, and lights out.

Dress for the Part

Remember when we talked about bedtime being like a space mission? Well, PJs can be the astronaut suit. Talk about the adventures they might have in dreamland while they're getting dressed. Will they float in zero gravity? Or maybe they'll be a knight in soft cotton armor. Let their imaginations guide them into their pajamas.

The Transition Trick

Switching from play clothes to pajamas can sometimes be a speed bump on the road to bedtime. Ease the transition. After their bath, don't rush into PJs right away. Have a snuggle, a chat, or a quiet play session first. Let their bodies and minds adjust to the idea of slowing down.

Pajama time doesn't have to be drama time. With a little creativity, it can be another fun part of your child's nightly routine. Who knows, with these tips, you might just find that the PJ part of the evening becomes as smooth as the silk of a superhero’s cape.

So, don your own comfy evening attire, my fellow bedtime-storyteller, and may your evenings be filled with laughter instead of stand-offs, with your little one dressed and ready for dreamland before you can say "sleepy time."


6. Story Time, Not Screen Time

As the night sky fills with glittering stars and the world outside whispers bedtime tales, it's our cue to gently guide our kiddos away from the glow of screens. Much like a hidden stash of candy can send them bouncing off the walls, screen time before bed can rev their minds into high gear, racing through digital fields when they should be winding down.

So let's tuck away the tablets and smartphones, those sneaky sleep-snatchers, and replace them with the quiet magic of a storybook. Opening a book with your child isn’t just about reading—it’s about slowly dialing down their day, one page at a time, allowing their imaginations to unfold softly into a realm where dreams are crafted.

Reading to them is like sprinkling fairy dust over their busy day, transforming frenzied thoughts into a gentle rhythm that beats to the storytelling drum. With each sentence, you're painting their dreamscape, inviting them to a world where adventures are safely nestled between the sheets and under the protection of their blankets.

And in this tranquil transition from day to night, from pixels to pages, you're not just setting them up for a night of serene sleep—you're also fostering a love for stories, an appreciation for the quiet moments that you share. This is where screen time's siren call fades into the hush of whispers and the rustling of pages, the time when the land of nod beckons with soft, open arms, ready to cradle our little ones in the soothing serenade of a bedtime story.

Let's turn the page on how storytime can make bedtime a breeze:

Create a Cozy Reading Nook

Make a special spot just for reading. Pile up the pillows, fluff up the cushions, or build a blanket fort. This becomes a magical place where stories come to life. When your child associates this cozy nook with reading, they’ll dive into story time with the enthusiasm of a pirate spotting treasure.

Let Them Choose the Adventure

Give your child the power to pick the bedtime book. Whether it's about unicorns or astronauts, letting them decide makes them feel in control of their bedtime journey. Plus, the anticipation of what happens next in the story might just have them racing to get ready for bed.

The Voices, Oh, The Voices!

Don't just read the story—perform it! Use different voices for different characters. A deep growl for the bear, a high squeak for the mouse—it’s all part of the fun. Your child will not only be entertained but will be hanging onto your every word.

Repeat After Me

If you have a repeat favorite (and you probably will), encourage your little one to recite parts with you. This repetition is comforting, and it also helps with memory and word recognition. They’ll feel like they’re part of the storytelling, making it an interactive experience.

Book as a Bridge to Bedtime

Make the transition from story time to sleep time seamless. The last page of the book can signal it’s time to close their eyes. You might say, "Just like the bunny goes to sleep in the story, it's time for you to rest too."

The No-Screen Zone

Keep tablets, TVs, and other gadgets out of the bedtime routine. Screens emit blue light, which tells our brains to wake up, not wind down. Keep the hour before bed as a screen-free zone, and watch how much faster those eyelids get heavy.

Story time is a treasure trove of calm, connection, and cuddles. It builds brains, soothes souls, and sends your little one off to dreamland on the wings of imagination. It’s a moment of peace in the whirlwind of parenting, a shared adventure as you both wander through forests of fantasy before the quiet of night settles in.

So, put away the chargers, power down the tablets, and crack open a book. It's time to weave a tale that not only captures the heart of childhood but also ushers it gently toward the land of dreams. And who knows? In those precious moments of story time, you might just find that the outside world fades away, and all that's left is the soft sound of your voice, a child's relaxed breathing, and the rustle of pages turning—a perfect prelude to a night of sweet dreams.


7. Cuddle and Talk

Alright, the storybook is closed, and the bedtime train is pulling into Snugglesville. It's time for one of the sweetest parts of the bedtime routine—cuddle and talk time. This isn't just about getting cozy; it's a golden opportunity to bond and ease your toddler into sleep with the warmth of your presence. It’s like the cherry on top of the bedtime sundae (minus the sugar rush, of course!).

Here's how to make the most out of these precious moments:

Cuddle Time Is Sacred

This time is just for you and your little one. Find your favorite cuddle spot, whether it's curled up in their bed, nestled in a rocking chair, or squished into a bean bag. Wherever it is, make sure it’s a place where you both can feel comfortable and relaxed.

Chat About the Day

Talk about what you both did during the day, the highs and the lows. Keep it light and positive, though—this isn't the time to remember the spilled milk incident. Focus on the moments that made you both smile. It’s a great way for your child to learn to reflect on their day and find gratitude in the little things.

Dream Weaving

Ask them about what they might like to dream about. Unicorns dancing? A trip to the moon? Whatever their little heart desires, chat about it. This not only gets their imagination primed for dreamland but also plants the seeds for pleasant dreams.

Share Feelings

It's important for kids to understand that sharing feelings is okay. Encourage them to talk about how they feel, and share your feelings too. “I felt happy when we played with the blocks today!” Sharing emotions helps them feel heard and understood.

The Love Reminder

Remind your child just how much they are loved. A simple “I love you to the moon and back,” can make them feel secure and cherished. It's like wrapping them in an emotional blanket of warmth and care.

Listen to Their World

This is also a time to listen. Really listen. When your child babbles about their imaginary friend's latest antics or how they discovered a bug in the garden, it’s big news in their world. Show interest in their stories and they’ll feel like what they say truly matters.

Slow Down the Pace

As you chat and cuddle, gradually slow down your conversation and soften your voice. This helps to signal that the day is ending and it's time to rest. Your calm demeanor is contagious; it tells their body it's time to relax too.

Cuddle and talk time isn’t just a routine; it's a ritual of love and security. It’s a time when the heart speaks in soft whispers and the hustle of the day melts into the quiet of the night. It’s when every giggle and murmur weaves a bond that fills their night with comfort and love.

So go ahead, wrap those arms around your little one, feel the rise and fall of their breath, and savor the moments of peace as the stars twinkle a lullaby and the moon smiles down. These are the moments that memories are made of, and in the soft embrace of bedtime, you’re building a fortress of love around your child’s dreams.


8. Sing a Soothing Serenade

There’s something about a gentle tune that can make even the wiggliest of toddlers melt into a puddle of sleepiness. After the day's adventures have been chatted through and the cuddles have worked their comforting magic, it's time to add a little night music to the mix. Singing a soothing serenade can be the final glide on our bedtime journey, like a soft feather drifting down to signal dreamland's arrival.

Here’s how to hit the right note with your bedtime serenade:

Pick Your Playlist

You don’t have to be a pop star or a choir singer to lull your little one to sleep. Choose simple, soft lullabies that you enjoy singing. It could be classics like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," or even a hummed melody that you make up as you go along. The sound of your voice is what matters most.

Make It a Duet

If your toddler is old enough, encourage them to sing along with you. This isn't about hitting the perfect note but about the shared experience. It's quite alright if your duet sounds more like a chorus of friendly frogs than a finely tuned piano.

Keep the Tempo Dreamy

The pace of your song should be slow and steady. Think of it as a musical rocking chair, swaying back and forth, rhythmic and comforting. The steadiness of the tune can help slow down their heartbeat and relax their body, preparing them for sleep.

Low and Soft

Keep the volume down and the tone soft. Loud and energetic songs have their place, but not at bedtime. You want your child to feel like they’re being wrapped in a warm, melodic blanket, not at the start line of a race.

Consistency is Key

Similar to other parts of your bedtime routine, consistency helps. Singing the same song or set of songs every night can become a cue that it's time to rest. Over time, just the first few notes can have your little one yawning.

The Power of Touch

Combine your lullabies with gentle back rubs or strokes on the head. The combination of your loving touch and the calming song can be incredibly powerful for settling your child.

Use Music When You're Not There

There might be nights when you can't be there for bedtime, but your song can be. Record yourself singing their favorite lullaby and play it when you're away. It’s like leaving a piece of your heart with them, even when you’re apart.

Singing a bedtime serenade is like the whisper of the wind through the leaves, a natural and nurturing end to the day. Your voice, soft and familiar, is one of the most comforting sounds your child knows. It carries with it the rhythm of love, the melody of care, and the harmony of a day well spent.

So, even if you can't carry a tune in a bucket, remember, to your child, your voice is the sweetest music. As their eyelids flutter closed and their breathing deepens, your serenade is the gentle wave that carries them off to sea in their ship of dreams.


9. A Kiss Goodnight

The serenade has softened the room with its melody, the cuddles have done their warm work, and now comes the starlight touch of the night—the goodnight kiss. This isn’t just any kiss; it’s a powerful potion that caps off the best bedtime routines for toddlers. A kiss on the forehead, cheek, or tip of the nose is like pressing the "sleepy time" button on your little love bug.

Let's plant that perfect peck:

A Ritual of Love

A goodnight kiss is more than a bedtime ritual; it’s a symbol of love and a silent promise that you’ll be there when they wake. It’s an age-old tradition passed down from parent to child, a seal of safe and sweet dreams.

The Perfect Pressure

Not too light, not too firm. Your kiss should be just enough for them to feel it, a comforting press that says, “I’m here, and I love you.” It's the Goldilocks of gestures—just right.

It’s a Sensory Signal

The feel of your lips on their skin is a sensory experience for your child. It’s warm and it’s familiar. It’s a signal to their body and mind that the day is done and it’s okay to let go and sleep.

Whisper Words of Sweetness

Accompany your kiss with a loving whisper, like "Sweet dreams, my dear," or "Mommy/Daddy loves you." This adds an extra layer of comfort and can become a phrase they associate with love and security.

Consistency Counts

Just like with lullabies and stories, the consistency of a goodnight kiss can be a powerful cue for sleep. Even on busy nights or when away from home, that same kiss from you tells them that the routine remains unchanged.

The Magic of a Missed Spot

If your child is playful, they might tell you that you missed a spot. Offer them another kiss and a giggle—it’s a sweet way to end the day on a note of joy and affection.

A Kiss for Comfort

Sometimes, after you’ve left the room, your toddler may feel a little lonely or scared. Teach them that they can kiss their own hand and place it on their cheek, like a transfer of your goodnight kiss. It’s a little trick that can reassure and comfort them.

Make It a Family Affair

If there are siblings or another parent around, make sure everyone gets in on the goodnight kiss. It’s a family finale to each day, a shared moment that says "we’re all in this dreamy boat together."

As the last light goes out and you tiptoe to the door, that goodnight kiss lingers in the room, a silent guardian against the monsters under the bed and the uncertainties that darkness brings. It’s a simple, powerful tool in the parenting kit that can do wonders for a child’s sense of well-being.

So, pucker up and plant one! That tiny kiss is a mighty spell that wraps up the day with affection and peace, weaving a night-time cocoon that’ll hold them until the morning butterflies wake.


best bedtime routines for toddlers

Now, if your toddler pops up like toast after all this, don't feel like you're in a mom-fail moment. Sometimes toddlers just do their own thing, like mini magicians escaping a bedtime trap. Keep at it, and eventually, your little Houdini will stay in bed, I promise.

Remember, every family's routine might look as different as each mom's coffee order. Find what works for you and stick to it. Consistency is key – it’s the secret sauce, the peanut butter to your jelly.

And on those nights when everything goes sideways and you feel like you're herding cats rather than tucking in toddlers, take a deep breath. Tomorrow is a new night for the bedtime routine rodeo.

Up next, Real Talk: Discipline Strategies for Toddlers That Actually Work!


Hi! I'm Jen, and I'm thrilled you stopped by!

I am a certified life coach, mother of five, wife, founder of the non-profit Eye on Vision Foundation, entrepreneur, Christian, and friend. I live, play, work and worship in the Orlando, Florida area.

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