Create a Nightly Bedtime Routine for your Toddler

When you create a nightly bedtime routine for your toddler it doesn't have to be a headache.

Organising preschool-aged children for bedtime can easily become the most challenging time of the day for busy parents. But bedtime routines are essential, so the sooner you develop one that works for you and your family the better.  

Creating a nightly routine for your toddler is an essential aspect of ensuring that your child gets the rest they need to grow and develop properly. Not only does a consistent bedtime routine help your toddler fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, but it also provides a sense of comfort and security that helps them feel safe and calm as they prepare for bed.

In this article, we will discuss how to create a nightly routine for your toddler. We will explore the benefits of a bedtime routine, how to develop a routine that works for your family, and some specific activities that you can include in your toddler's nightly routine to help them wind down and prepare for sleep.

Benefits of a Nightly Bedtime Routine

Before we dive into how to create a nightly bedtime routine for your toddler, let's first look at the benefits of having a consistent bedtime routine. A nightly bedtime routine can:

  1. Create a Sense of Security: Having a set bedtime routine helps your toddler feel secure and safe. By following a predictable pattern every night, they know what to expect, and this can help reduce anxiety and stress around bedtime.

  2. Improve Sleep Quality: A consistent bedtime routine can help your toddler fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. This is because their body will recognize the routine as a signal that it's time to sleep, and it will begin to prepare for rest.

  3. Promote Healthy Habits: By establishing healthy sleep habits early on, you are setting your toddler up for a lifetime of good sleep hygiene. This includes things like getting enough sleep, going to bed at the same time every night, and avoiding screens before bedtime.

  4. Strengthen Bonds: A bedtime routine can be a special time for you and your toddler to bond. By spending time together in the evening, you are creating a positive association with bedtime that will last a lifetime.

  5. Establish a Bedtime Routine: Creating a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your child that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This can include activities like a bath or shower, brushing teeth, getting dressed in pajamas, and reading a story. Choose activities that work best for your child and make them a part of your nightly routine. Consistency is key, so try to stick to the same order of activities each night.


Developing a Nightly Bedtime Routine

Now that we've discussed the benefits of a nightly bedtime routine, let's look at how to develop one that works for your family.

The first step in developing a bedtime routine is to establish a consistent bedtime. Ideally, this should be around the same time every night, even on weekends. This will help regulate your toddler's internal clock, making it easier for them to fall asleep and wake up naturally.

Once you have established a consistent bedtime, it's time to start developing a routine that works for your family. Here are some steps to follow:

Step 1: Create a Calm Sleep Environment

Creating a calm sleep environment is important for helping your toddler feel relaxed and comfortable as they drift off to sleep.

This can include using a nightlight, playing soft music or white noise, and keeping the room at a comfortable temperature. It’s also important to make sure your child’s bedding and pajamas are comfortable and appropriate for the season.

Step 2: Create a Nightly Bedtime Routine Your Toddler Enjoys

An enjoyable nightly routine at bedtime is one that helps to calm and relax your child as you prepare them for sleep. Keeping nightly bedtime routines fun helps your child develop good habits at an early age. When you create a nightly routine your toddler enjoys, your child will sleep much better because their emotional needs have been met.

Try setting your bedtime routine based around simple regular activities, like dinner, a bath, and a bedtime story. Keep the nightly routine fun and stimulating by involving your child in the preparation for bedtime. Don't rush your child's bedtime routine, even if you are exhausted.

If you are running slightly later than normal, remember that going to bed late once in a while is absolutely fine.

Step 3: Wind Down Before Bedtime

Before bedtime, it’s important to wind down and create a relaxing environment. This can include dimming the lights, reading a story, or engaging in quiet activities like coloring or playing with puzzles.

Avoid stimulating activities like playing with electronic devices, watching TV, or roughhousing with your child, as these can make it harder for your child to fall asleep.


Step 4: Decide on the Length of the Routine

Your nightly routine should be long enough to allow your toddler to wind down and prepare for bed, but not so long that they become restless or bored. Generally, a routine that lasts 30-60 minutes is ideal.

Step 5: Set a Consistent Bedtime Routine

One of the most important steps in creating a successful nighttime routine for your toddler is establishing a consistent bedtime.

Children thrive on routine, and having a consistent bedtime helps regulate their internal clock, making it easier for them to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day. It’s important to choose a bedtime that works for both you and your child.

Ideally, toddlers should be getting between 10-12 hours of sleep each night, so consider your child’s age and individual needs when selecting a bedtime.

Consistency is key when it comes to creating a successful nighttime routine for your toddler. Try to stick to the routine as closely as possible, even on weekends or during vacations. This will help reinforce the routine and make it easier for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Example Nightly Bedtime Routine for Your Toddler:

  • 6:00 pm – Finish dinner and begin winding down activities, including turning off electronic devices, dimming the lights, and preparing for bath time.
  • 15 pm - Start encouraging and engaging in quiet activities like coloring or reading a book.
  • 6:30 pm – Begin the bedtime routine, including a bath or shower, brushing teeth, getting dressed in pajamas, and reading a story.
  • 7:00 pm – Tuck your little person into bed on time every night and reinforce the time to rest and sleep.

Step 6: Choose Activities That Work for Your Family

The activities you choose for your toddler's nightly routine should be relaxing and calming. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Bath time: A warm bath can be a soothing and calming activity before bed.
  • Story time: Reading a book or telling a story can help your toddler relax and calm down.
  • Lullabies: Singing or playing soft music can be a soothing activity that helps your toddler fall asleep.
  • Snack time: A light, healthy snack can help your toddler feel full and satisfied before bed.
  • Brushing teeth: This activity not only promotes good oral hygiene, but it also helps signal to your toddler that it's time for bed.

Step 7: Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool in encouraging your toddler to follow their bedtime routine.

This can include praise for good behavior or a reward system for sticking to the routine. Rewards don’t have to be big or expensive – a sticker chart or a special bedtime story can be enough to encourage your child to follow the routine.

Step 8: Be Consistent

Consistency is key when it comes to developing a nightly routine. Stick to the same activities in the same order every night to establish a predictable pattern that your toddler can follow. Children like structure because it makes them feel safe and comfortable. This is a human need.

Setting a fixed time for bedtime each night can be a very welcome pattern for your child. It helps them identify key milestones. Most households are very busy and it's very common for both parents to work stressful jobs with long hours.

If you are taking turns putting your children to bed, make sure you communicate. Talk to your partner so you are both well-versed in the night routine at bedtime. All your good work will quickly become undone if you leave your partner to take care of bedtime, only to arrive home from work to find them both watching Pepper Pig 30 minutes after bedtime!

Lets' say you have a preschool-aged child and aim for 7.00 pm (lights off and bedtime). If you work back from that time, it would mean preparing dinner around 4.30 pm to 5.00 pm. You can eat together, clear up, have a little playtime, a bath, and then a bedtime story at around 6.30 PM.

Life gets in the way for many busy families, but if you can be consistent with your locations. Associating locations with different key bedtime events helps children develop their transitioning skills. You will be surprised at how quickly your little person starts to run off to their bedroom to get their pajamas after a bath. Or knows when its time to pick out a story for you to read to them just before lights out.

Creating a bedtime routine for your toddler using consistent locations for different events will help your child understand association through locations. This will prepare them to separate for bedtime.

Step 8: Address Sleep Disruptions

Even with a consistent bedtime routine, it’s common for toddlers to experience sleep disruptions like nightmares or night terrors. If your child wakes up during the night, it’s important to be patient and comforting.

Try to determine the cause of the disruption – if your child is scared or anxious, you may need to spend some extra time soothing and reassuring them. If your child is experiencing frequent sleep disruptions, it may be worth consulting with a pediatrician or sleep specialist.

Step 9: Don’t Rush When Creating Your Toddler's Nightly Routine

Young children need help understanding transitions.

Moving from a very busy action-packed day to a much calmer dinner, bath, and bedtime routine can be very difficult. Learn how long your bedtime routine takes. It might be one full hour from eating to lights out so try to think about how you can help your toddler start to relax.

Try not to rush a bedtime routine simply because you were running later than normal. Your child will pick up on this and may become unsettled. This can result in further delays in getting them off peacefully to sleep.

Step 10: Introduce the Concept of Time

The nightly routine is a fantastic setting to start introducing time to your toddler.

If you have blackout blinds then you can safely discuss night and day with them. Remember, in those summer months without blackout blinds, or shutters, it may not get dark until well past 9.00 pm!

Your toddler will not understand what time means initially, but as they develop and learn time will start to make sense to them. Using time helps your toddler to associate actions with the bedtime routine.

Step 11: Use Clocks

Lots of parents find great success in using visual clocks as part of a bedtime routine.

Having your child physically move the clock hands around to ‘bedtime’ can help trigger the association that the day is over. This can make their transition into bed much easier.

Step 12: Dim the Lights


You'd be amazed at how many people forget the importance of dimming the lights in a child's room. It is a proven medical fact that bright light can hinder a child's desire to sleep. If it emits a blue-tinted light (tablets, mobile phones, PC screens, TVs) then it should be avoided well in advance of any bedtime routine.

Make sure you remove any unhelpful electronics and dim those lights to better prepare your child for sleep.

Step 13: Try Imaginative Storytelling

How many times have you put your head on the pillow only to feel wide awake? Children, just like adults, find themselves unable to close their eyes and drift off to sleep.  

Children love nothing better than using their imaginations so when you encounter difficult sleep moments try creating a joint story. If your child is struggling to get themselves off to sleep you could try to build a short story together around their favourite character/s.

Encourage your child to help form a story with you. You might be pleasantly surprised by just how creative and humorous your toddler can be as their imagination grows.

Final Thoughts

Creating a nightly routine for your toddler takes time and patience but you will get there.

Your bedtime routines might not work out immediately, but keep strong and stay committed to your plans & beliefs. There is no satisfaction quite like nailing the perfect 'no drama' nightly routine for the first time.

If you do discover that your child is not coping with sleep time, and you feel there are some issues that you need professional support with, you will want to discuss this with your GP or a pediatrician. You are never alone so remembering to reach out for support if things become overwhelming for you, or your child, is important.

Read more Parenting Tips for Babies And Toddlers.