If you have a toddler or preschooler, bedtime can be grueling some nights. Toddlers have this innate ability to save every question and need they've ever had for the five minutes before they're supposed to go to sleep!
Your toddler's bedtime routine can be frustrating and exhausting! As parents, sometimes all we want is to have a break at the end of our long day and for our child to go to sleep with minimal fuss. We chatted with a pediatric sleep specialist and mom of two, Rachael Shepard-Ohta of Hey Sleepy Baby. She gave us her advice on making bedtime easier and turning your toddler's bedtime routine into a special bonding time.
Rachael tells parents to remember ABC — Accept, Bridge, Connect. Here are her tips on how to use this concept and make those bedtime battles a little easier to manage:
If your toddler feels anxious, fearful, or sad about going to bed, remember to accept their emotions rather than talk them out. It's normal and understandable for our children to have difficulty separating from us. Nighttime and sleep represent a massive separation for our children, both physically and psychologically.
How to accept the feelings: "I can see you're feeling sad about putting our books away. I get why you're upset that it's time to stop reading. Should we snuggle and sing our song now?"
For some kids, telling them "goodnight!" or "See you in the morning!" will not cut it. They need to hold on to you through the nighttime separation. Help them adjust by bridging the night and focusing on reuniting in the morning vs. focusing on the separation. Separation anxiety can come and go throughout infancy and childhood and commonly peaks around 9, 12, 18, and 24 months.
How to bridge the separation: "I'm so excited to see you in the morning! What should we have for breakfast? Pancakes? Perfect. I hope you'll help me make them! That will be fun."
Or, you might say something like, "I'll see you in my dreams! What should we do? Swim with whales? That will be amazing!"
By providing your child with a visualization of when you'll be together and what you'll do, you are helping them see that you'll be back together soon. It can make bedtime feel less scary.
Often I see toddlers struggling with bedtime because they are looking to have their "connection cup" filled by any means possible. It can be beneficial to limit distractions in the evening by putting phones away and focusing on your children. That might mean playing with them for 10 minutes of uninterrupted time before bed, cuddling and reading their favorite books, or just laying together in your matching Little Sleepies pajamas to talk about the day. If our child's connection cup is empty at bedtime, they'll do anything to keep you in the room.
How to connect: Really BE with your child as you wind down for bed. Eye contact, physical affection, and words of affirmation can be great.
- "I love you soooooo much. Which song would you like me to sing?"
- "You make me so happy. Should I give you a back scratch?"
- "You are so loved! Can I give you a hug?"
Keeping ABC in mind can help ease bedtime and make it an enjoyable time of connection rather than a battleground. We will miss this phase someday, after all! If you're looking for more support on bedtime routines, check out Rachael's resources on her website or @heysleepybaby on Instagram. And, be sure to show us how you beat the toddler bedtime battles the comments below.