One of the hardest things about parenting a toddler is, without a doubt, the tantrums. While they can happen at any point during the day, very few things can compare to the challenges that nighttime tantrums bring.
You know the ones – the ear-splitting wails (louder than sirens) that come at the end of “Let’s get ready for bed!” (or any variation of it). Yeah – that one.
Why do toddlers throw tantrums at bedtime?
As parents, it may be challenging to understand these fits, especially after a long day. However, as high as your blood pressure can get (and understandably so!), according to experts, these toddler bedtime tantrums are absolutely normal.
In fact, if you were to put yourselves in their shoes, their meltdowns can actually be pretty rational. Sometimes, if a 3 year old is having tantrums, it’s due to overtiredness, frustration, a bad mood, or the well-known culprit – lack of a discernible toddler bedtime routine.
As it turns out, children love routines. They thrive on them! Toddler bedtime routines are therefore no different.
Contrary to popular belief, a bedtime routine for your toddler does not have to be super structured to work. Structured or flexible, a nightly routine will signal to your child that it is time to wind down and relax.
The role of electronics in spoiling bedtime routine
Besides the lack of routine, do you know what else can ruin a good bedtime routine? Electronics.
The reality is, many of us as parents will use these lovely devices to educate our little ones or even to entertain them long enough for us to get through a task. Sometimes we may even use them to do things that we may be too tired to do – *cough* bedtime shows instead of bedtime stories *cough*.
However, while screen time appears to get the job done, unfortunately, a growing body of research shows that screen time before bed is actually disruptive. It can have severe consequences for your child’s sleep due to the blue light emitted.
This blue light disrupts the production of melatonin, which is responsible for causing feelings of sleepiness. Therefore, screen time will keep your child alert and awake – the opposite of what we want to achieve- even after the device is taken away.
How to Establish a Toddler Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine for toddlers typically consists of three or four activities done in the same order every night. However, setting a bedtime routine can seem a little daunting at times.
It is encouraged that you create a routine that works for both you and your child. This method typically softens the experience, makes it easier to maintain, and increases the likelihood of success.
If you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few suggestions to establish a toddler bedtime routine that you can use as a base or try incorporating into your own. These include:
- A nutritious snack, bottle, or breastfeeding
- Warm bath or diaper change
- Brushing teeth and going to the bathroom
- Reading a book
- Rocking or cuddling
- Kiss good night
- Lights out
This list is not exhaustive, nor is it prescriptive, as every child and home is different. It may even take some trial and error to find what works for you and your family.
These are just some of the activities that have worked for my family. As previously mentioned, please feel free to mix and match the activities according to the constraints of your own home.
Tips to enable a smooth, happy atmosphere at bedtime
While these activities may help you to build a routine, certain factors can still affect those toddler bedtime tantrums. To minimize the risk of this happening, try sticking to the following:
- Let them finish: Bedtime routines start before bedtime. Is your toddler in the middle of building a wobbly skyscraper out of blocks? Let them finish! That unbalanced stack of blocks is a work of art to them, something they’ve invested their time in and fills them with pride! Give your little one the chance to finish their work.
- If it’s taking too long, you can even agree on a time together before packing away the toys. That way, your child will feel heard. They will also feel like they have some control over the situation or input into the process, making them more willing to go along with it. This activity will also signal to them that it’s time to start winding down.
- Keep it regular: Your child’s bedtime routine should consist of the same activities in the same order every night. Doing this daily gives your child reassurance and helps them to know what to expect.
- Use a routine chart: A chart will help your toddler understand what comes next so they won’t be upset when you tell them something to do. It helps if your bedtime routine chart has lots of eye catching photos that will motivate them to complete the task. You can also use a chart that allows them to show their accomplishment by checking it off with a marker, crossing it off, or taking the item off with velcro. Download these free routine charts below!
- Keep it simple: It may be tempting to try and pack everything into your bedtime routine. Don’t. Try to keep your nighttime activities within 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your child’s needs. This will help to minimize the risk of having an overtired child.
Related Post: Why Your Toddler Needs a Routine
- Make it cozy: Follow sleep hygiene rules and keep your child’s bedroom quiet, dark, or dimly lit and cool to promote quality sleep.
- Listen to your child: Although, as the parent, you are the one who is ultimately in charge, it may not be a bad idea to listen to your child. If something in your routine isn’t working for them, listen to what they have to say, and make adjustments if necessary.
- Let them use screens: As I said before, using electronic devices too close to bedtime has detrimental effects on your child’s sleep.
- Give them sugary treats before bed: Try to give your child snacks that are light and healthy in the evening. Eating sugary snacks just before bed can lead to a sudden spike in their energy levels as well as cavities. If your baby is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, remove the nipple before they fall asleep. Failing that, remove the nipple and wipe your child’s mouth clean with a wet cloth (one million points to you if your little one doesn’t wake up!)
- Read scary stories before bed: Avoid reading scary stories and doing other mentally or physically stimulating activities before putting your child to sleep.
It’s natural for toddlers to throw tantrums, even at bedtime. So don’t be too hard on yourselves when they do.
It’s also natural for routines to change as your child gets older. If you notice that something that used to work no longer does, make the necessary changes until you’re back on track.
Finally, and most importantly, try to relax and have fun. Bedtime is a special time for both of you. It doesn’t need to be filled with stress and anxieties, nor does it need to be something to “get through.”
Enjoy your time together! Remember, they’re only little for so long.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Camesha Monteith Smart, based in Kingston, Jamaica, has already had an illustrious career in the “Edutainment” industry – an effective combination of entertainment and education (which is appropriate for the author of a new children’s book, because what could be more perfect for someone who is instilling an early love of reading into children?) . She describes herself as an “Art Director and multidisciplinary designer, an educator, a mother, and most recently, author,” of the brand new children’s book, FINDING FUN.