Advice Column, Toddler

Creating a Calming Bedtime Environment for your Toddler

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By Jolandi Becker – Good Night Consultant

Busy toddlers can often eat less and sleep less because they are too busy and active.  They just don’t seem to have the time for it.  But they still require 11 – 12 hours of sleep at night and 1.5 – 3 hours of sleep during the day.

A calming bedtime routine helps signal the brain that sleep is coming and helps with the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy).  Think Spa-environment when thinking of your bedtime routine:  it should be winding down time and not winding up time.

Here are a few tips to help your toddler to switch off after a busy day playing and moving:

The bedtime routine is important time to spend one on one time with our toddlers.  Especially when we are working all day or when new baby has been added to the family.  This is a time that should be uninterrupted without cell phones, babies or life to distract.  Each parent should have some time during the bedtime routine to focus on their toddler.  Kids crave time with us and after long day the bedtime is a wonderful bonding time.

A common mistake parents make once babies become toddlers is to move the bedtime later.  Up until the age of 5 years children still require 11 – 12 hours of sleep at night and more often than not tend to wake early in the morning.  It is thus important to keep aiming for 19h00 bed time.  Stalling tactics often happes when toddlers are overtired and over stimulated.  “I want something to eat”  “I want to say good night to the dogs.”  “I want to go pee.”  “I want something to drink.”  These are easily avoidable when rather aiming for earlier bedtime than a later one.

A bath as part of the bedtime is a great starting point.  The warmth from the water helps with the production of Melatonin.  It is impossible to keep a toddler calm in a bath but if they do get too excited rather keep the bath shorter.  If they enjoy playing in water, water play should be an activity during playtime not bedtime.

Add some Magnesium Bath Salts to the bath water.   Magnesium has proved benefits which include improved oxygen use and absorption of nutrients.  It also helps with inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps.  It helps to calm the toddler’s body and also assists with growing pains.

Once you are done with bath include calming and breathing activities.  As you put cream on your toddler massage their body while they are lying down on the floor.  Indicate to them their different body parts while you massage talking slowly and calmly.  “Feel your head. Feel your neck. Feel your shoulders. Feel your belly.  Feel your legs. Feel your feet.”   Most toddlers love cuddle time and enjoy massages.  This is a great tool to make them focus and switch off.

TV, cell phones, tablets and computer screens have what we call blue light.  Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin.  Thus 2 hours before bedtime try to avoid television. New studies also suggest that too early screen viewing has negative effects on language development, reading skills and short term memory.   With screen time is also not just about what they are doing/watching but also about what they are not doing.   For gross motor development it is important for kids to move around and play.

Reading stories is a wonderful habit to include as part of the bedtime routine.  Of course there is endless benefits for this including increase in vocabulary, better understanding of words but  one of the main benefits is that it gives parents time to spend with their children doing something constructive.
For toddlers it is a good idea to set boundaries with these kind of activities from the start.  Read only 2 stories (not 2 books, some books have more than one story).  Your toddler can choose the stories but keep a healthy boundary to avoid them wanting to read more and more.   Also have healthy expectations with their attention.  Most 18 month olds should not be expected to listen to an entire story, with them they will mostly want to hold book and turn pages themselves and mostly just look at pictures.  Once your toddler is closer to 3 years of age they should be able to listen to a short story.

Keep all lights dim and off once they sleep.  Set the stage for sleep.  So only keep on a bedside lamp during the reading and massage part of your routine.  Once you put your little one in the cot make sure to put all lights off.  Darkness helps with the production of melatonin.  A night light should only be introduced if your little one asks for one insistently.

More often than not parents also link toddlerhood with moving them to a big bed.  Avoid moving your toddler to a bid bed to soon.  The main reason is safety.  You do not want your two year old to be able to roam your house when you are sleeping.  A good time to move them is around 2 and half to 3 years of age.


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