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How to Create a Peaceful Bedtime Routine for Toddlers

Updated: Jun 11

By: Sarah Bossio, Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert


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Toddler bedtimes are so much more different than bedtime with your baby. Let's talk about how to make your toddler's bedtime peaceful and easy to get them into sleep so that you can enjoy the rest of your evening without little curtain calls from little feet.



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It’s All About Behavior


I have helped hundreds of families one-on-one get the sleep that they so need and deserve, and I love working with toddler families because I was a special education teacher for 15 years. Toddler bedtimes are all about behavior and I am excited to help you manage your toddler’s bedtime behavior.



Establishing Structure and Consistency Around Bedtime


My biggest tip for you as a parent with a toddler who is trying to get through a very efficient bedtime, is to make it structured and extremely consistent. I am sure this describes your toddler as it does many toddlers around the world. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile. 


We are giving no inches. We are going to implement structure and keep it within our boundaries.


That said, toddlers do like to have some autonomy. They do like to have some choice. A lot of our bedtime struggles come from power struggles: you wanting them to do something and them not wanting to. You're at odds with each other. So, in addition to structure, is the need for boundaries. 


By providing them with some choice within your boundaries, they get to feel like they have a sense of control, when they’re actually following our rules.

This helps ensure a happy, peaceful bedtime that flows well.

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Mastering the Toddler Bedtime Routine


I recommend your toddler's bedtime routine be about 30 minutes long, from start to finish. This may seem like a lofty goal, considering toddlers prefer to stretch the routine into a two-hour long affair. One minute you are tucking them into bed and the next thing you know, you’ve read 15 books, given 17 snacks, and offered three different pajama changes.


How do we mitigate this? By giving them choice.



Sarah Bossio holds up a toddler bedtime routine chart.

Use a Toddler Bedtime Chart


A great way to give your toddler some choice in the bedtime routine (while still keeping it structured and within your boundaries) is to use a toddler bedtime chart. Toddler bedtime charts allow your child to choose what their bedtime activities are going to be – from a selection you have chosen. It also allows them to choose the order of the activities while giving them a visual. 


The beauty of this is that it turns the chart into the “instructor”. No longer are you dictating the order of events (“It’s time for our snack, come on, let's sit and eat our snack. Turn off the TV. It's time for a snack.”) Instead, we can just point to the chart. That visual is extremely helpful for our toddlers and the way they process information. It also helps to keep the routine moving.


For reference, here is the chart that I recommend to families and personally use at home: Bedtime Routine Chart.



How to Use the Toddler Bedtime Chart


  1. Start with an assortment of cards representing each step of the bedtime routine. Let your toddler arrange the cards in the order that they would like the routine to go that night.

  2. When your toddler has completed the first step of the bedtime routine and that card is complete, remove the card.

  3. Move onto the next card (the next step of the routine). Say to your toddler, “It is time to [task on the card].”

  4. Once that task is complete, the card goes away.

  5. Continue this process until the cards are all completed and you reach the last step of the routine: bedtime.

  6. Bedtime is non-negotiable. When it is time to get in bed, tell your child, “It is time for bed. I love you so much. I will see you in the morning and we are going to turn the lights out.”

  7. Then – sweetly but briefly – tuck them into bed, and leave the room.


Troubleshooting the Chart

If your toddler has trouble transitioning to the next task during this process, remove verbal indicators and just point to the card chart while providing gentle guidance. For example, if the next step is bath time and your child is struggling to transition from potty to bath, remove verbal indicators and point to the card, then gently guide them to the bath.


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The Final Moment Before Bedtime


When I work one-on-one with families and we get to the moment right before the non-negotiable bedtime, every child needs different levels of support. Because each child is unique, I help families case-by-case to determine what strategies will most efficiently support their child in staying in bed and falling asleep. My goals when working with families is to create a bedtime in which the child is not fighting, they are not resisting bedtime, and they are falling asleep on their own without the whole rigmarole of getting out of bed and delaying bedtime. 


If you are interested in learning more about that, check out my toddler sleep packages so I can help give you more focused information about how to make bedtime much easier for you during those non-negotiable moments.


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Managing Toddler Behavior Overnight


Once your child is in their bed or their crib, incorporate another visual for them if you have a toddler clock available. If you use the Hatch, you can use the red light and say, “Red means in bed,” and that becomes your toddler’s visual cue. 


MELLA Little Hippo clock sleeping

I love the MELLA Little Hippo clock because, in addition to a red light indicator, it also has a face that goes awake and asleep. This is a clear visual for your child to understand that when the clock is awake, it's okay to be out of bed, and when the clock is asleep, it means they need to be sleeping.




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The Most Powerful Toddler Bedtime Tool: Independent Sleep Skills


The most important component for maintaining peaceful bedtime and overnights with toddlers is to ensure they're falling asleep independently. If you are struggling with your child needing your presence at bedtime or in the middle of the night, and it’s not working for you anymore, then this is the perfect reason to reach out for help and start learning how to sleep train your toddler. I'd love to chat with you about your individual sleep situation and how I can help you get your family’s sleep on track.


I'm constantly posting new sleep content for toddlers, babies, and preschoolers on my Youtube channel. I would love for you to be the first to know when a new video is up, so be sure to subscribe and turn on notifications.

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Add this blog to your favorites to have it handy – I am always posting free resources here to help you.


PS: I host free Q&A sessions every week on my Instagram. I love knowing that this information is useful for you and helping you work through your sleep issues, so send me a DM on Insta and let’s connect!

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If you need specific help or you have a quick question about what toddler sleep looks like, please reach out.


You can also learn about my sleep training packages for more assistance, or book a free discovery call with me to learn how I can help.

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Pediatric Sleep Expert Sarah Bossio sits on fun wicker chair with arms wide smiling

May your coffee be warm,

Sarah


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Sarah is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert based in the NY/NJ Tri-State area and has helped over 400 families worldwide get their sleep back on track.

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