It’s no secret that little ones are masterminds at finding ways to stay up past their bedtime.
You might feel like you need a heart of steel to say no when your cutie pie is begging for one more story or one more back tickle. Still, toddlers need up to 14 hours of sleep a night for healthy growth and development. And parents need some time off the clock each night in order to stay sane.
So how can you get your tot to bed on time without (too much) of a struggle? Here, three moms share what works for them.
1. Practice good sleep habits during the day.
What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep? Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works. Sometimes, I practice meditative breathing: Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts.
Kids can start with three counts and work their way up. Even 18-month-olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffed animal on their stomach and practice watching it go up and down.
All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it. You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”
-Elisabeth Stitt is the founder of Joyful Parenting Coaching.
2. Set an earlier bedtime.
If your child needs to be up by 7:30 AM to get through your morning routine and be out the door on time, she probably should be sleep by 7:30 PM. That means you need to start bedtime at 7:00.
That might seem early, but consider this: If your child is cranky and having tantrums, it’s probably because she’s overtired. Not only will being overtired make it harder for her to fall asleep, but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.
If your child is cranky and having tantrums, it’s probably because she’s overtired.
If your child is a really solid napper and sleeps for two to three hours during the day, you might be able to do a later bedtime. But if you have a child like mind—who was down to a one-hour nap after lunch by 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep.
3. Have a firm bedtime routine.
Toddlers hate bedtime, so they might try to negotiate with you. But you can’t let them. If they sense any hesitation on your part to stay firm on bedtime, they’ll take advantage by asking endless questions.
My toddler is no different. To counter his tactics, I run bedtime the same way every night: Sweet treat for dessert, bath time, teeth brushing, jammies, prayers, and a story—in that order, every single time.
I’ve found that routine helps him feel like he has some measure of control over bedtime. Which I’m fine with, as long as he goes to sleep!
–Latasha Kennedy is an actor, writer, producer, and mom to two rambunctious and adorable boys.
4. But don’t make it too involved.
Be aware that a too-long list of bedtime rituals makes it hard to go through the entire routine on nights when you get home late or you’re short on time.
For my kids, bedtime was changing into pajamas, one story, one song, and then a sleepy time music track that would go on when I left the room and play for about 45 minutes. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with lower lighting to create a calm mood. For the song, we’d just use the night light.
As for tasks like taking a bath? They can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight, we have to…” That way, it’s not officially part of the bedtime routine. So on nights when you just don’t have time for a bath, you aren’t actually changing the bedtime routine.
5. Find a favorite lovey.
If your toddler is having trouble with her bedtime routine, find a stuffed [animal] she can do the routine with and then take to bed. Have your child perform each step of the bedtime routine on the lovey, like put on pajamas. Then you do the same step for your child.
It’s easy to forget how hard it is to be a kid, when everyone makes your choices for you. This gives toddlers a sense responsibility, independence, and control—and can help her feel better about bedtime.
-Jacqui Zadik is the founder of the lifestyle and parenting blog Mrs. Muffintop.
6. Remember, you can do this.
Your child may try tactics from tantrum-throwing to begging for extra hugs. My two-year-old currently stomps his feet while declaring, “No go bed now!” After a long day, it can be hard to not snap back with, “Yes, you are!”
Instead, I take a deep breath, and give myself a quick reminder that I can dip into my secret stash of chocolate/binge on a Netflix show/take a hot bath later. Then, I can muster enough patience to calmly say, “Everyone is going to bed, just like you. I love you, and we can play with ____________ tomorrow.”