Toddlers are truly amazing—they move so quickly from infants to independent little people with big personalities and even bigger needs. As they learn and grow, they look to their caregivers for guidance, encouragement, and support. Establishing routines helps them to feel confident and encourages healthy independence as they evolve from tiny toddlers to older kids.
Bedtime is the perfect opportunity to establish a daily routine for toddlers that will benefit both child and parent. With days that are filled to the brim with new experiences and exciting activities, it’s no wonder children need help winding down at night before they fall asleep.
Why Is A Bedtime Routine Important For Young Children?
A bedtime routine for kids and toddlers is important because it can help your child learn the skills they need to fall asleep, stay asleep, and cope on their own for a night of restful slumber.
A well-rested child is often more physically and emotionally ready to greet the challenges of the next day, and promoting healthy feelings around bedtime can encourage comfort and relaxation — even when their caretakers are a room away.
Parents often wonder how to get kids to sleep in their own bed. As toddlers and young children get used to sleeping on their own, a consistent bedtime routine can give them an extra boost of security and alleviate any lingering nervous feelings or fears that may arise at night.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends a good bedtime routine alongside a consistent sleep schedule and relaxing sleep space to encourage and promote better sleep. After conducting a global study that included more than ten thousand caregivers, the AASM found a strong connection between regular bedtime routines and longer, more productive sleep and reduced daytime behavioral problems.1
Benefits Of A Bedtime Routine
While the end goal of a child or toddler’s bedtime routine is restful and rejuvenating sleep, implementing and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can make the moments leading up to your child’s bedtime a positive experience:
- Routines establish connections – Routines help to build and establish bonds between child and caregiver. By knowing what to expect as they move through the day (or evening), your toddler will build confidence and independence under your guidance and care.
Whether you’re reading a favorite books on connection or other stories with your child, taking a bath, or putting on pajamas, routines promote feelings of safety and security. Completing these routines together can also foster positive associations and help your child feel loved and included.
- Routines build confidence – Routines give young children the consistency they need to feel safe and secure. Knowing what to expect as they move through their day can calm feelings of uncertainty and make them more confident in their ability to tackle tasks.
In an interview with educator Janet Lansbury, child sleep expert Grace Koinage discusses the importance of consistency in helping toddlers feel comfortable and secure at bedtime. Doing things the same way every night encourages them to get excited for each portion of the routine when they know what’s coming next.2
Steps For Setting A Bedtime Routine
If your toddler is struggling to get to sleep and every night ends in bedtime battles, establishing a bedtime routine can help smooth the transition from wake to sleep while encouraging positive emotional development and healthy sleep habits.
There is no one right way to set a bedtime routine for your little one—every family has a different dynamic and different needs that will work best for them. At the end of the day, you are the expert on what is best for your family. Regardless of how you approach your child’s bedtime routine, the most important part is consistency.
That said, below are some of our recommended steps to include when establishing a bedtime routine.
Step #1 Bath
A warm bath filled with bubbles provides a calming shift in a toddler’s day. The sensory experiences give them opportunities to explore different sensations in a safe, monitored environment. As part of a bedtime routine, bath time provides a perfect change of pace to start your child on the path to sleep.
Although pre-bed bubble baths are part of many families’ bedtime rituals, they may not be right for every family. Some children may prefer morning showers or baths or experience anxiety when it comes to bath time.
Step #2 Bathroom
There is so much physical and cognitive growth that occurs during the toddler stage, including moving from diapers to using the toilet. If they’re in the middle of learning how to use the toilet or are fully transitioned to underwear, it’s a good idea to remind them to use the bathroom before bed to minimize midnight leaks.
Step #3 Pajamas
While it may seem like a simple task, if you have a toddler in your home you’re well aware that putting on pajamas can sometimes be like chasing down a tiger or wrangling an alligator.
Encourage your child to take agency by letting them choose their own pajamas covered in favorite characters or having them show you how they can put them on all by themself (or with a little help).
Step #4 Brushing
Brushing their teeth and taking care of their hair as parts of their bedtime routine will help establish good hygiene practices that will stay with them as they grow older.
You can keep these moments lighthearted by incorporating a brush-time jingle or after-gargle dance.
Step #5 Storytime
The excitement of reading a bedtime story every night with your child gives them something to look forward to as they move through each step of the bedtime routine. Reading together provides a bonding opportunity that will give them comfort as they mentally prepare for your absence after they’re tucked in for the night.
As far as keeping consistent routines go, reading the exact same bedtime book together every night would prevent any variation from the routine. You could also give your toddler the option to select the book or books every night, giving them another step in the routine to get excited about.
Step #6 Snuggles
Cuddles and snuggles are another way to give your toddler extra love and comfort before leaving them for the night. They’ll look forward to the hug and kiss before it’s time for mom or dad to depart. Take cues from your toddler during times when they need an extended snuggle session, like if they had a challenging day at school or seem more upset than usual.
Introducing a comforting friend can help them to settle down for bedtime as well, such as:
- A favorite stuffed animal
- A Snuggler
- A well-worn blankie
Having something to hold after you tuck them in and kiss them goodnight will aid in soothing them as they drift to sleep.
Step #7 Lights Out
Creating a peaceful, calming sleep environment helps to promote positive sleep. Darkening lights send signals to the body that it’s time to sleep, so turning off lights is an essential step when encouraging healthy sleep for your toddler.
Depending on your child’s comfort level in the darkness, you may want to include a night light or a cracked door as the final step in saying goodnight. Kids prone to night terrors or waking in the night might find reassurance in a gentle light source to help soothe them back to sleep.
Benefits Of Reading With Your Toddler
While sharing a story is a beneficial part of an optimal bedtime routine, the positive effects of reading books together go way beyond helping them wind down for the night.
Some of the many benefits of reading to your young child include:
- Establishing and maintaining a parent/child bond
- Language and vocabulary development
- Interactive learning
- Repetition and familiarity
Bedtime stories could have potential long-term cognitive benefits as well. A recent study found that children who went to sleep after reading (either at bedtime or naptime) had a higher rate of language retention, suggesting that sleep helps them to consolidate and process what they learned.3
Choosing The Best Bedtime Books
Bedtime stories can be a wonderful way to incorporate ongoing themes or address any recent events that caused your child concern or distress. Seeing their favorite characters face their fears and adapt to changes teaches them how to handle different situations or new environments.
Some of our favorite suggestions for reading together at bedtime include:
- If your toddler needs a little extra help falling asleep at night, try incorporating Sloth Starts To Slumber into the bedtime book rotation to help them unwind with soothing progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
- If you’re spending lots of time exploring the outdoors with your young child, Honey Bear's Gifts of Nature will encourage feelings of gratitude, respect, and wonder while in the wild.
- If your toddler is having trouble adjusting to a new family structure, Fox's Big Family Change can help them with coping skills and anxiety reduction.
Whichever books you choose to read together, sharing a story will build your emotional bond and help your toddler ease into a healthy sleep.
Establish Healthy Routines With Slumberkins
When it comes to setting boundaries with kids, a bedtime routine may be high on the list. Sleep is essential for healthy development in young children, and yet falling asleep is one of the more difficult life skills to master. Implementing a bedtime routine will help your toddler establish positive sleep habits they can carry with them into adulthood. As they step out farther into their ever-growing world, having routines in place can help toddlers find and understand how to navigate their space.
At Slumberkins, we give your child tools that promote healthy emotional development and compassionate understanding of the people and world around them. Our relatable creatures allow young children to connect, reflect, practice, and grow through stories and play. Incorporating a creature and its unique themes into your toddler’s bedtime routine can help reinforce affirmations and encourage positive emotional learning.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Study shows that children sleep better when they have a nightly bedtime routine. https://aasm.org/study-shows-that-children-sleep-better-when-they-have-a-nightly-bedtime-routine/
- Janet Lansbury. A Holistic Approach to Baby and Toddler Sleep (with Grace Koinange). https://www.janetlansbury.com/2021/12/a-holistic-approach-to-baby-and-toddler-sleep-with-grace-koinange/
- Frontiers in Psychology. Goodnight book: sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941071/
- PLOS. Defining and measuring bedtime routines in families with young children—A DELPHI process for reaching wider consensus. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247490
- Psychology Today. Bedtime Routines for Children: Important, But Why? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dream-routine/202012/bedtime-routines-children-important-why
- Sleep Medicine Reviews. Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587181/