3 Ways I Created a Calming Bedtime Routine to Help My Toddler Sleep

Written By

Jess VanderWier
January 31, 2022

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Have you been struggling with bedtime with your older toddler or preschooler? Do you see a lot of tantrums around bedtime and struggle with your child saying in their bed?

You are not alone! This was my reality for a long time.

When my daughter was two years old, my husband travelled for work – a lot. I was doing bedtime alone most nights during the week. By the time bedtime rolled around every night, I was tired, ready for a break, and had barely sat down all day. The dirty dishes would be piled in the sink, and the floor would be covered in my daughter’s dinner residue. 

I would bring my daughter upstairs to do bedtime, and she would protest. She didn’t want to sleep. She would cry, throw a tantrum, and get angry. I would spend over an hour trying to get her to fall asleep every night, only to have her wake up and find me after only a few minutes. 

This became our bedtime routine. 

My husband encouraged me to write a list of tools I would share with my clients in the same situation. 

I started by asking myself, “What would I encourage parents to do if their kid’s bedtime was chaotic and filled with big emotions? 

I brainstormed three strategies and spent the next few nights applying these to my daughter’s routine. Within a few nights, her bedtime routine went so much smoother!  

Here are three ways to help create a calming bedtime routine with your child.

1. Be Consistent With a Bedtime Routine

Children do well knowing what will come next; predictability is key. For bedtime, creating a consistent bedtime routine can work wonders for calming many children. The routine can be as simple as going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth, reading a book, singing a song, and going to sleep. 

The goal of a solid bedtime routine is for your child to start identifying that it is time for sleep and to help them wind down. If you haven’t created a routine yet, start by choosing a few steps you know you can be consistent with each night; repeatedly following these steps will help signal to your child that it’s sleep time. 

I often hear parents saying, “But Jess, I have been doing the same routine every night for months (or even years), and now it always ends with my child having a tantrum! I don’t understand!” 

I hear you! This is the point I was at with my daughter. We had been doing the same routine for months, and every night, it ended with a tantrum. It might help to switch up the routine! For more information on this, read “3 Strategies to End Toddler and Preschooler Sleep Struggles”. 

Use our FREE checklist to help identify why your child struggles with sleep!

2. Give Your Child Time to Process Their Day

Even with predictability and a consistent bedtime routine, my daughter was still having quite a few tantrums.  

I realized I was rushing to get through dinner and bedtime, often after a busy day of seeing friends or doing errands, and I wasn’t giving my daughter time to just sit and process her day with me. 

At the beginning of the bedtime routine, I started to spend a few minutes with my daughter recapping her day. I gave her time to express her feelings and talk to me about how she felt before she was overtired and unable to cope with these feelings. 

Setting aside the time to let her express her feelings and tell me about her day as we started the bedtime routine helped her feel calmer. This made a big difference! While we still had a few tough nights, bedtime was finally smoother, more often than not, and I started looking forward to this time of the day! 

If your child is still learning how to express their big feelings, it can be helpful to read a story about emotions with them at bedtime! Books are a great way to help children understand emotions, learn that it’s okay for them to have big feelings, and learn tools for coping with those feelings. Check out “7 Books To Help Children Understand Their Feelings” for my recommendations. 

3. End the Bedtime Routine With a Special Goodbye 

One of the most important things you can do in the bedtime routine is focus on making your goodbye special. Your child needs something at the end of the routine that signals two things to them: 

  1. You will still be taking care of them, even when you aren’t right there.
  2. The bedtime routine is over, and now it’s time to sleep.

One way you can do this is by singing your child a special song every night to close out the bedtime routine. If you have multiple kids, it can be meaningful to sing a unique song for each child. 

This song signals to your child that it’s now time for sleep. When the song is over, and you are about to leave, you can help your child stay calm by reminding them that you love them, you’ll be back to check on them, and it’s sleep time now. 

Children thrive off routine and consistency, so adding in a special song can really help make your goodbye calmer and easier each night.

You Know Your Child Best

When creating your new bedtime routine, remember to consider what will work best for your unique child – you know them best!

Some children need more time to wind down after a busy day, so the routine might include a few stories and songs to help them relax. Other children may need some sensory input to help them get calm and sleep better, so the routine might consist of some rough and tumble play. If you and your child had a busy day, they may need some time to sit and talk to you about their day; connection time can make all the difference!!

If you are looking for more bedtime tools for your older toddlers, preschool, or school-aged children, check out our Solving Bedtime Battles course

This course has easy-to-digest lessons packed with tools to help you find sleep AND feel connected with your kids! We cover everything from setting up bedtime for success, transitioning from co-sleeping to independent sleeping, dropping the nap, sibling room sharing, separation anxiety at night, nightmares, peeing in the night, and so much more!

Grab the courses here!

Key Takeaways

  1. Consistency and predictability in a child’s bedtime routine can greatly help them calm down and prepare for sleep.
  2. If a routine isn’t working, even if it’s consistent, it might be time to switch things up and try new strategies.
  3. Allowing your child time to express their feelings and process their day can make bedtime less stressful and more calming for them.
  4. Ending the bedtime routine with a special goodbye, such as singing a unique song, can signal to the child that it’s time to sleep.
  5. Each child is unique, and their bedtime routine should cater to their individual needs and preferences.
  6. Bedtime can be a valuable time for connection and bonding with your child. 
  7. There are additional resources and courses available for parents struggling with bedtime routines and sleep-related issues with their children.

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    Article By

    Jess VanderWier
    Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.