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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers sleep 11-14 hours per day. If your little one doesn’t get enough sleep, you may have to deal with an overtired toddler; which all parents know, isn’t pretty. Establishing sleep associations and a consistent bedtime routine will help your child to get the sleep that her little body so desperately needs.

 

 

Leading Up to Bedtime

The lead time to sleep is important. In our house we do wind-down time an hour before bedtime. My two-year-old has no concept of time, but hearing me say “One hour until bedtime” has conditioned her to understand that she still has time to play, but we are changing the mood. I then encourage calmer play activities. I try to keep my own energy and voice calmer. She follows my lead. At thirty minutes until bedtime I say “Almost bedtime. Let’s head upstairs.” These updates allow her to prepare. It is expected and consistent.

 

Developing Your Own Routines

Every family that I know has different steps to bedtime. There is no one-size fits all routine, but there are two key components that all children need—hygiene and comfort. Bathtime has always calmed my little ones and been a great segway to bedtime, but my sister says that evening baths make bedtime too long and crazy, thus she opts for morning baths. Do what works for you!

Sample Routine

My toddler’s current bedtime routine looks like this:

Bath During her bath I let her play for a few minutes, then I begin talking to her about the day as I soap her up. She gets a pump of liquid baby soap as she begins to wash her own body. We always end the bath by rinsing her hair and saying “All done! Bedtime.” It isn’t the words that are important, it is the consistency.

Settling into Her Room Next I allow her a minute or two in her bedroom. She typically gathers stuffed animals or starts to look at books. During this time we continue to talk, modeling language and conversation, but in a calm way.

Brush Teeth I play the song Brush Your Teeth by Raffi as I brush her teeth.

Story Reading with your child is one of the best things that you can do to help to build his brain. Bedtime is the perfect time to share literature with your child. My little one chooses two books, then climbs onto my lap.

Song When the stories are finished I ask my daughter which song she wants. Choices are better than yes or no questions when you are trying to establish a consistent routine. (“Do you want Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or You Are My Sunshine?” versus “Do you want a song?”)

In Bed As soon as we finish our song, I lower her into her crib, and say goodnight. Most nights she lies right on her pillow and waits for a goodnight kiss, but some nights she stands up or wants to tell me one more thing. Every night I kiss her stuffed animal, then kiss her, and say “I love you, sweet girl. Goodnight.” Then, and I think that this is key, no matter her reaction, I turn on her nightlight, close her blinds, turn on her music, and leave her room. It is important that my response be consistent, even if her behavior isn’t.

 

Developing a bedtime routine will help your toddler to, not only, get the sleep that she needs now, but also set her up for sleeping success in the future.

“Mommy, I’m scared.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t know.”

My eyes adjust in the darkness and I see the glow of the digital clock beside the bed: 3:12 am. 

The tiny pajama-clad figure whose face is only inches away from mine was tucked carefully in her bed a few hours before.  

What in the world could have awakened her?

These are normal statements coming from a toddler or preschooler. When they happen once, we address them with love and empathy and go back to life as normal. But when they occur on a regular basis, we start to wonder what is really going on. When we are functioning in our well-rested, clear-headed, logical-thinking parenting mode (which may not come until after the toddler years are over), we can dissect the problem and address a solution based on our knowledge base. But what about when the problem doesn’t seem to have a “real” cause? When tummy aches are not from something our little one ate or drank, when middle of the night fears are not realistic, or when other tantrums or behaviors seemingly have no cause. Parents in these situations often try every possible solution until they are desperate for the issue to be resolved.

Ironically, there might be a solution that makes no sense at all but can bring peace (and a good night’s sleep) to weary parents and children alike. It isn’t logical, but fortunately it doesn’t require an expensive gadget, a trip to the store, or even a parenting book. It is simple, but the reason it eludes most parents is that it is not always easy to accomplish.

Couch time. Yes, couch time.

What is Couch Time?

The term “couch time, ” also known as couple time was coined by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo many years ago when they noticed many difficult issues with young children were solved by parents having consistent time together in front of their children. 

Trends on how to get your baby to sleep have come and gone, but the principle of parents showing their kids that everything is good with them as a couple is one that stands the test of time. Children crave security. In a world that is constantly changing, they overhear the news, the neighbors, and they are aware there are many things that are unsure. The one thing that brings them great peace is to know their parents love each other and care for one another.

You can do this preemptively as well as to troubleshoot a challenging issue with your child. Typically, when parents arrive home from a long day at work, they divide and conquer. Someone makes dinner, someone else plays with the kids or starts the bedtime routine. Mom and Dad are often in different rooms for much of the evening—except maybe for dinner—until the kids go to bed. So here is where the simple change can begin. Instead of going separate ways when the work day is done, parents sit down on the couch together (side by side, holding hands, just like when you were dating). No devices in sight—start by putting those on mute in a different room. Then talk to each other, not about schedules, appointments, and the kids. But about life, what’s happening at work, dreams and plans, future vacations. Happy stuff. Things that make them smile. Where are the kids during this time? Hopefully right there in the room. Yes, they have to be prepped to not interrupt, and they may need a special “couch time” basket of toys to entertain them during this time. But the point is for your children to see you—their parents—in a loving, kind interaction for ten or fifteen minutes.

If one spouse is traveling, it can be even more important to have this time together in front of the children. Instead of FaceTiming or Skyping the kids first, let them see Mom and Dad having a good conversation first. Letting kids know their parents miss each other and all is well in their relationship goes a long way to avoid discipline issues for the parent stuck at home. The side benefit of all these conversations is they help the couple have a chance to talk in the midst of a busy day and even improve their relationship. That’s something the whole family can get behind.

Told you it wasn’t logical. But it works. Try it for three or four days in a row and see for yourself. Nighttime issues disappear. Tantrums become less frequent. Complaints fade away—all because there is a visual reminder to your child that all is well in their world.